India Security Advisory for Foreign Workers

This is a security advisory for Foreign Workers moving to India. It covers basic information on safety and security while setting up residence in the National Capital Region that includes the city of New Delhi and surrounding towns of Gurugram (formerly Gurgaon), Noida, Ghaziabad, and Faridabad.

Disclaimer: This advisory is not exhaustive, and is not a substitute for a detailed risk assessment and needs-based security plan. The below information is provided free of charge for informational purposes only, and the author, his employer – Hill & Associates Limited, and its associated entities assume no warranty or responsibility for inclusions, omissions, or the consequences of the use of this information.

The author can be reached by email at ajit.nathaniel [at] hill-assoc.com. 

Air Quality

Air quality in the National Capital Region has been a major issue over the past several years, and has received global publicity since Delhi has been named among the world’s most polluted cities for several years running. Air quality in the National Capital Region is generally poor, with AQI persistently above 150. Pollution surges in September, and air quality remains in the “hazardous” range until the end of February.  It is generally accepted that persistent exposure to AQI over 100 has adverse health effects and can be particularly damaging to infants, young children, and anyone with a history of respiratory problems or immunodeficient conditions.

  1. Conduct an air quality audit of the home you plan to occupy.
  2. The highest level of indoor air quality management is provided by a whole-home Positive Air Pressure air purifier system. The costs associated with design, procurement and installation, can exceed INR 2,500,000 for a three-bedroom home. In addition, monthly running expenses on energy and replacement HEPA filters can be substantial.
  3. Free-standing  Air purifier systems available from global brands such as Honeywell, Sharp, and Philips, and local players such as SmartAir are effective in controlling pollutant levels, but must be used in conjunction with an AQI monitor such as those marketed by Kaiterra.
  4. AQI monitors are essential to track indoor pollutant levels and troubleshoot for air leakage or ineffective HEPA filters.
  5. Claims on social media that certain potted plants “absorb pollutants” or “purify the air” have no scientific basis, though adequate foliage can help lower temperatures and marginally improve oxygenation in small areas.
  6. Follow media updates on Air Quality and data generated in real time by sources such as aqicn.org.
  7. When pollution levels are high, use masks compliant with the N95 or N99 standards when outdoors.

Engaging Domestic Staff

  1. Ensure that the staff you engage comes with adequate references and testimonials.
  2. Verify all employer testimonials or references via a phone call or an official Email address. Do not take these at face value, as there are frequent instances of letterheads and other credentials being forged.
  3. In Delhi it is mandatory to conduct a police verification of all domestic staff. This is often facilitated by landlords or the management teams of housing projects.
  4. When engaging a domestic worker, obtain proof of age (Voter ID / 10th Standard Certificate / Aadhar etc) for your records. Engaging a worker aged under 14 years is a serious crime and can attract fines and imprisonment, and having such evidence  of age on file is proactive protection against malicious claims. You will be held responsible for an underage worker on your premises even if not directly engaged by you – for instance – if part of a work crew provided by a construction or sanitation contractor.
  5. Drug screening through a reliable service provider is advisable for sensitive roles.

Safety in Public Places

  1. Individuals with physical features that may identify them as foreign tourists (light -coloured skin, light-coloured hair, dreadlocks, visible tattooing, certain eye colours etc.) tend to attract attention from touts, illegal moneychangers, and ushers for shops that sell cultural curiosities. If you are approached by such a person, terminate contact with a firm “no thanks” or “not interested” and ignore further attempts at a conversation. Engaging, even to be polite, will be interpreted as encouraging. Do not feel compelled to enter a shop or business establishment just to be polite.
  2. Do not accept food or beverages from strangers under any circumstances.
  3. Avoid traveling alone at night, particularly on foot, even if in commercial or entertainment districts.
  4. Being the national capital, Delhi is often the venue for political protests and demonstrations. Many of these tend to be event-driven and occur in response to policy announcements, news reports, or high-profile crimes. Avoid areas where a protest is in progress, as these have been known to unexpectedly escalate into violence. Police in India are legally empowered to respond to protests with baton charges, water jets, rubberised bullets, and live ammunition. All vigils, demonstrations, and gatherings that may be perceived as a protest, require prior permission from police which may or may not be forthcoming. Monitor local media and risk advisories for details of ongoing protests, and plan travel accordingly.

Safety in Your Hotel or Residence

  1. Keep exterior doors locked at all times, and ensure professional grade CCTV coverage of all access ways. If your home does not have a security guard, install high quality door locks and a videophone.
  2. Ensure that CCTV systems, Videophones, and Burglar alarms are functional and connected to wiring that is distinct from that used to operate appliances and lighting. Security and surveillance systems should have adequate power backup through a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) system.
  3. Build a ready reckoner with the phone numbers of the local police station, fire department, hospitals, and physicians treating chronic or recurring illnesses in family members. Educate household staff on how to deal with specific emergencies.
  4. Take walks around your neighbourhood at various times of the day to identify gate closures; peak-hour traffic congestion; and hazards such as open drains, or manholes that are indiscernible in low light conditions.

Public Transportation

  1. While the Delhi Metro is secured by armed guards and tight video surveillance, protection ends at the station gates. Children should not use public transport unescorted.
  2. Delhi has a bus service with well-defined routes, but buses are frequently crowded and most lack climate control.
  3. Public taxis in India often have faulty or tampered meters, and drivers are known to charge extortionate rates. It is advisable to use taxis engaged by your hotel or through an official vendor engaged by your workplace.
  4. Despite a handful of highly publicized crimes, app-based taxi services such as Uber and its home-grown competitor Ola are considered to be safe. The availability of services is generally good in well-populated parts of the city, though drivers may occasionally decline trips that involve crossing state lines.
  5. Uber and Ola Drivers are known to ask for extra money citing “toll” or “tax” charges. Do not pay extra as these charges are already included in your fare.

Road Safety

  1. Traffic conditions in India are substantially more challenging than in the western world – avoid driving unless you have prior experience, special training, or are accompanied by a local who speaks the local language.
  2. GPS Navigation works satisfactorily within most cities, however, poor data networks affect accuracy in certain pockets or while driving cross-country
  3. If you are involved in an accident avoid a verbal confrontation – if you feel threatened, leave the scene and report to the police (after obtaining medical attention if necessary).
  4. Accidents that involve children are almost certain to escalate to violence against the driver and the vehicle perceived by witnesses to be the offending party.
  5. Seatbelts are mandatory for front-seat occupants in cars – non-compliance attracts a fine.
  6. Don’t leave valuables in the car; if you must, kept them out of sight and locked away in the glove compartment or boot.
  7. Avoid parking your vehicle in the street overnight; if necessary, try to park in a well-lit area.
  8. Never pick up hitchhikers – not even women.
  9. The Drink-driving limit in India is 0.03 BAC – however, since breathalyzers are rare (and infrequently calibrated when available), if you are stopped by police you are certain to be detained if you smell of alcohol – regardless of your BAC. The law prescribes a fine, imprisonment, and impounding of your vehicle and driver’s licence.
  10. In the event of an accident, being intoxicated can result in compounding of charges up to culpable homicide.

Food & beverages

  1. Tap water is NOT potable in India.
  2. Install Reverse Osmosis filters at home and demand sealed water bottles at restaurants.
  3. The bottled water and beverage brands owned by Coca Cola and Pepsico conform to international quality standards and are considered safe.
  4. In budget restaurants, avoid salads and dishes with raw vegetable garnishes.
  5. Most traditionally grilled meats are “well done” but be judicious.

Socialzing

  1. Build your social circle through trusted colleagues, alumni associations, and well-vetted social groups. There are multiple activity groups specifically for foreign workers posted in India.
  2. Be wary of approaches in bars and restaurants – if you are not interested in talking to someone, be emphatic in ending the conversation. Continuing a conversation, even to be polite, may be interpreted as encouragement.
  3. Online and app-based dating is generally considered safe. However, avoid using a primary mobile number on online platforms. Make sure someone knows the name and phone number of the person you’re going to meet, as well as the planned meeting point and your expected time of return. Meet in a public place and make your own arrangements for transportation back from the date, especially if you expect to have a drink.
  4. Be judicious about inviting a date home or accepting such an invitation. Set expectations appropriately and have a contingency plan in case your date becomes difficult.
  5. Men must set expectations explicitly. There have been claims that consensual sexual contact been construed as rape out of malice or for blackmail.

This note was originally written in August 2018 and has been updated in June 2019.

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