“Investigation is an art; it’s not everyone’s cup of tea”, says Baldev K Puri, Chairman of AMX Detectives Pvt Ltd, a veteran in his field with over 35 years of experience in undercover operations.
How did he think of taking up this unusual line of work? No, it wasn’t from reading detective novels. He reveals, “I learned everything from my father. Investigations weren’t considered as a profession for a long time”, says Puri.
First, his father asked him to complete his studies in accounting and focus on being a registrar of companies. His training in chartered accountancy was not a backup career plan but crucial to detective work, as most of the cases his father got during the 1980s revolved around the corporate sector.
A lot of ordinary people also avail the services of private investigators for pre-matrimonial checks, divorce cases and loyalty surveillance. “They can’t go to police to get information about a prospective bride or groom…people contact private detectives for these matters”, says Puri.
He explains that in a pre-matrimonial investigation, 3-4 detectives do the ground work working in shifts. Very often, it is difficult to cross-check the facts, which is why he admits that the gathered information can only be 70% true, as the information is being provided by third parties.
“To maintain secrecy, appointed detectives aren’t aware that others have been given the same case”, asserts Puri, revealing his modus operandi. Puri’s detective agency functions all across India.
In India, private investigation is not a licensed profession but there is no bar on opening a detective agency or hiring a private investigator. A bill was formulated in Parliament to provide licences and regulate the profession. However, it has not been passed so far due to changes in government and priority given to other laws.
Puri is the general secretary of Association of Private Investigators and Detectives. “The association has laid a set of rules as we aren’t regulated by the government, and professionals abide by the rules religiously”, he claims.
Internal training is mandatory for all the investigators, and it needs to be refreshed every six months.
Much like any other professional, the detectives are very keen about their ethics and code of conduct. Apart from the directors and managers being the face of the company, employees work covertly without revealing their identity.
Upholding the family legacy, Puri’s daughter Tanya has also chosen to be a detective. She started her private investigator journey when her father asked her help in one of his cases. She now manages a separate agency called Lady Detectives India. She focuses on pre-matrimonial, post-matrimonial, love affairs, divorce and surveillance cases, among others.
In the hustle-bustle of Delhi’s Nehru Place is situated DDS Detective Agency. A walk through the narrow lanes of electronic shops takes one to a secluded floor, a perfect setting for a detective agency.
There is no flashy board outside the office, just a plain nameplate. Silence pervades the interior of the office; no employees can be seen at work. When Patriot met Sanjeev Kumar, he didn’t reveal much of his identity but continued to attend client calls.
Kumar has been working as a private investigator for the past 10 years. Since he was a police officer before setting up the agency, he says that his experience comes in handy in most of the cases.
According to him, regulation of the profession will minimize the number of fraudsters, those who are only interested in cheating clients by taking an advance and disappearing without a trace. “I don’t think it will ever happen, because why would the government regulate investigators and give off their cases”, says Kumar.
In the absence of proper regulation, the number of fraudsters in the industry is on the rise. “Once the client understands that the investigator is a fraudster, they will not follow up for their lost money. Because these fraudsters have personal information of clients which can be misused in many ways”, he adds.
Asked why there is no staff at the office, he says, “This is not an office job, the investigators need to be on the field working on the case.”
High tech tools
Sanjeev Kumar says that the advancement of technology has impacted the modus operandi. “Earlier it was easy to watch over a client and gather information from the neighbours. Now, neighbours don’t know each other, and the security regulations are tightened”, says Kumar.
Talking about the clientele, he says that in most pre-matrimony, post-marriage and love affair cases, it is the upper middle class and well-off families who avail the service.
“There are clients who don’t care about the money if they attain the desired result”, he adds.
Within a short span of time he was able to gain the trust of his clients, and most of his new clients are referrals of his old clients.
The salary of a private investigator depends upon their skills and efforts they put in an investigation. In case of corporate undercover investigations, which may need up to 5-6 months, the remuneration of the investigator also increases.
He offers services on a range starting from Rs 30,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh.
The job requires a lot of courage, confidence and flexibility. “You can be caught and questioned any time. That constant fear remains throughout the profession”, says Kumar.
He continues, there are times when the spouse of the client calls and verbally abuses the agent because of what has been revealed.
“Being a private investigator might look good in films as the representations are quite glamorous, but in real life we work differently”, he says.
Kumar started the detective agency because of his entrepreneurial interests. “I am in my forties, and it’s going to be the peak of my detective career. If I had continued in the police force, I would have retired in 10-15 years. Being in this profession is more of a business for me than a passion”, he states.
Spy by chance
Though the profession looks glamorous, it is a male-dominated occupation with only a few female detectives functioning in Delhi-NCR.
An exception to the rule is Taralika Lahiri, who says she didn’t choose the profession, it chose her. Born and brought up in Allahabad, she came to the national capital after marriage and started working as a substitute English teacher.
After her contract with the school was over, she started working with a corporate company which deals with safety devices. A week later, the company was asked to investigate an Allahabad Bank embezzlement case, and Lahiri was asked to help the in-house investigation department as she is a native of the city.
Her lengthy 26-page report attracted the attention of her manager and she was transferred to the investigations department. She worked with them for around six years but then started her own firm as she felt her work was not being acknowledged.
During a personnel crisis in Maruti in 1995, she was hired to investigate and collect the required information. That was a turning point in her career. When the company was revamped and termed Maruti Suzuki, her team was hired to look after the recruitment process. They worked with the company for a decade.
“I am very satisfied with the work I have done all these years. Being recognized and respected by past clients gives you much more satisfaction”, says Lahiri.
She has worked with several reputed companies, starting with small cases to even murder investigations.
Mostly, her firm focuses on litigation investigations for the leading law firms in South Asia. Apart from Indian clients, Lahiri gets international clients from across the world. Those days are long gone when, at the beginning of her career, her family was anxious about her safety when she had to travel late at night.
Lahiri is the first Indian lady detective to be appointed as Director of World Association of Detectives. “Our work is around a thin line of ethics, and I can proudly say that I‘ve never crossed that line”, she remarks.
Working with corporate companies is what excites her the most. There is a lot of experience and knowledge revolving around that. She hires a mix of freshers and experienced professionals, as freshers have the necessary stamina for long surveillance, and the experience brings awareness of techniques and tactics.
She continues, “In movies, we might see detectives posing as officials, but we have never done that. We get our information through our detectives via a very clear-cut method.”
Technological advancements have been helpful, according to her observations, “It is easy to get a lot of information from social media. In one case, we were able to get the full details of a person in a few hours”, she adds.
Uncertainty around regulation
The Private Detective Agencies (Regulation) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 13 August 2017. The agenda of the bill was to provide regulation and licensing of private detectives operating in India.
According to the proposed bill, a valid licence would be required for any private detective agency to function. Under certain circumstances, the government would be able to cancel the licence without consulting the licensing board.
The bill was referred to a standing committee but was withdrawn from Rajya Sabha on 23 March 2020, stating that it needs to be re-evaluated on the level of power of these agencies.
The bill suggested that any agent violating the privacy of an individual should be punished with imprisonment and fine. While detective agencies welcome the move of the Centre to regulate them, they oppose any sort of objection with regard to the right to privacy.
Right to privacy is a touchy point, as is clear from the statements of Home Minister Amit Shah while steering through Parliament the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill in April 2022, which replaces the antiquated 1920 law entitled Prisoners Identification Act.
He assured the Rajya Sabha that police would ensure privacy and human rights of individuals and that biometric data of political detainees would not be collected.