The following article was written for Travel Risk Management Solutions by Zane Wilmans, an India-based security professional
The Republic of India (India) is the seventh largest and the second most populated country in the world and has become one of the fastest growing major economies.
Due to the size and diversity of the country, the risks associated with business travel can vary considerably from region to region and range from low to high.
In November 2008, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks brought Mumbai onto the centre stage and caused significant and justified alarm, not least that the style of the attacks had not been witnessed on that scale before. There remains a credible threat of terrorist attacks in India from a number of different groups that are active across the country. Likely targets include religious sites, crowded areas, government and military sites, public transport hubs – such as main train stations and airports, and venues known to be frequented by western travellers, including hotels. This being said, it is the more common threats that business travellers face day to day when visiting India, such as crime, corruption, public disorder, natural disasters and road travel.
One of the most common threats is that of petty crime and pick-pocketing which is widespread throughout India and particularly prevalent in crowded cities and around popular tourist venues. Confidence tricksters will also seek to target unsuspecting foreigners. More organised crime tends to be targeted at the local population as too does kidnap for ransom, although care should always be taken not to stray into the areas of cities where these threats significantly increase. India is rated as having one of the highest levels of domestic kidnapping in the world.
Corruption is a problem that exists throughout all walks of life in India, despite major campaigns to reform it, and it is especially evident in government offices and within local authorities. Levels of corruption will vary from state to state.
India is known for its demonstrations and political rallies which mostly only cause disruption to local travel. It should however be noted that these gatherings can turn violent quickly, placing any person caught in the vicinity at risk.
Due to the geographical location of India it is prone to a number of natural disasters including earthquakes. The most recent earthquake was around New Delhi on 5th March 2012 which had a magnitude of between 4.9 and 5.2. Around 50% of India’s land mass is at risk of earthquake. Its large eastern coastline is also vulnerable to cyclones (especially between April and December), whilst many parts of the country can be affected by the monsoon rains (the monsoon season generally runs between June to September), causing flooding. Flood damage and disruption to travel is often compounded by poor drainage, which can also lead to associated health risks.
Road travel within the major cities is generally acceptable, albeit overcrowded and chaotic. Whilst the number of road traffic accidents is high, within the major cities the slower speed of the vehicles helps to reduce the risk of serious injury. Travel by road outside of the major cities at night is regarded as a significant risk in most parts of the country due to poor road conditions, other road users (including stray animals), inadequate lighting and poorly maintain vehicles. India actually has one of the most dangerous statistics for road travel in the world with over 200,000 road deaths recorded in 2011.
India is a diverse country with many different religions and faiths as well as a large increase in activity of the Naxalite (Maoist) movement. This should be regarded as India’s largest domestic challenge at present in terms of insurgency. The Naxalite movement has gained widespread traction in the past few years and it is notable to mention that recently they have kidnapped tourists and held them for ransom which was not previously part of their usual methods or practices. The Naxals have been responsible for many deaths and assassinations of police, government figures and attacks on government facilities and their activities used to be limited to what is known as the red corridor however increasingly they have increased their presence in some major cities. Travellers need to be made aware of this increasing threat and potential change to India’s “landscape”. It is important not to give too much emphasis on one particular group as India has many other politically changing situations as well as other anti-government movements. It is well known at this stage that there are terrorist sponsored braches of Islamic extremists in India and this is testament to a number of bombings that have spanned over two decades in one form or another not to mention 26/11.
Businessmen or women arriving in India should also be particularly aware of how business is conducted in India. Corruption continues to be a huge problem as mentioned before and can be found in almost any system of government be a small office administration to a large administration process. Paybacks or kickbacks are also part of almost any business negotiation whether in private industry or government related. Recently over the past two years and anti-graft/anti-corruption movement attempted to challenge the government through largely peaceful protest and hunger strikes of a leader of the movement. Presently, it does not seem that any change will come soon due to the pressure put on the current government. There is a variety of red tape in conducting business deals and it is advisable that anyone looking to do business in India is fully aware of these pitfalls and obstructions and more often than not a good lawyer is needed to circumvent such issues.
Overall, the risks associated with travel and the conduct of business in India can be largely mitigated or reduced through careful planning and professional assistance. There are some regions which require greater precautions to be taken and specific advice should be sought. The risk environment in India is continually changing and requires constant monitoring and analysis. India, as a whole is a relatively stable country for travellers and people looking to engage in business but it is highly recommended that certain measures are taken to avoid any pitfalls.
One of seven South African security specialist to save 150 people from the Taj hotel from terrorists during the 26/11 attacks. Awarded by company and published in Media outlets.