New Delhi: She is a real-life lady "James Bond" -- snooping on and stalking individuals, eavesdropping, planting bugs and hacking into personal accounts. She does it all to solve the toughest of cases.
But Rajani Pandit rues that while the fictitious British spy is "licensed to kill", she and her ilk have to operate without a licence.
Her complaint is that private detectives are not recognised by the government even as related legislation is pending since 2007. Without a regulatory law and government recognition, she says, her ilk often treads a thin line between legality and illegality.
With the proliferation of private detective agencies -- particularly foreign firms -- in India, stakeholders now say a law regulating the fast-growing industry is imperative.
Hailed as the country's first woman detective and credited with solving numerous cases, including some high-profile murder cases, Pandit, in her 50s, told IANS that a regulatory law with a proper mechanism of licensing private detectives would save them from regular police harassment and help the industry to flourish.
"In the course of investigations we have to undertake many tasks like stalking people or eavesdropping which involves risking police action. Police perceive private detectives as some sort of threat and often harass us. If there is a regulatory law and we are licensed, we will not have to face such harassment," Pandit said.
"Licensing will also help us in getting permissions for tasks like mobile tracking or use other tracking devices," said Pandit, who has been running her detective agency in Mumbai since 1991.
Indian detective agencies are steadily becoming a vital element of the business world after moving away from mere matrimonial investigations and expanding into corporate and litigation intelligence.
And Pandit's demand for operating with a licence is echoed by many in the sector.
Kunwar Vikram Singh, founding President of the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators -- India (APDI), told IANS that it was high time the government recognised the significance of the industry.
"In the last few years, the private investigation industry has grown exponentially and so has the realm and dimension of the investigations," Singh said.
He said the expanded realm included corporate intelligence, risk intelligence and litigation intelligence.
While there are no government figures available, according to the APDI, there are over a lakh of people, including women, operating as private investigators across the country.
Singh said many foreign firms have also started operating as risk consultancies in India.
But he sees a security risk there because "we don't have a law to check and authenticate their operations," he says.
"This indeed can become a matter of security concern and the government must enact a law at the earliest," said Singh, referring to the Private Detective Agencies (Regulation) Bill 2007.
In limbo since it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August 2007, the bill sets up a system to license private detectives and regulate their conduct. It also specifies that a private detective must be an Indian citizen.
Pandit, too, opined that a regulatory law will help in weeding out "unscrupulous elements" from the private detective industry. "There are many instances of people being defrauded by unscrupulous people posing as private detectives," he added.
According to Singh, the multifarious roles of private detective agencies have made them "indispensable in corporate functioning".
Unlike their illustrious fictional counterparts like Sherlock Holmes or Byomkesh Bakshi, they may not be solving high-profile murder cases, but private detectives are often hired by litigants and advocates for providing "clinching" evidence.
"Information provided by private investigators has often come to the rescue of people who have been accused of serious crimes but actually were innocent. There are also instances when our actionable intelligence has enabled the prosecution to present a watertight case against an accused," Singh said.
Banks and financial institutions also hire the services of private investigators.
"Besides screening of customers and those seeking loans, our services are hired to track defaulters and locate their assets. Services also include verification of documents submitted by the customers or those seeking loans."
Singh, also the President of the World Association of Detectives (WAD), the global body of private detectives, said APDI recently had very "fruitful talks" with the government about the passage of the bill.
He said the industry and the government were also working to set up a detailed programme, including training centres for private detectives -- mostly former intelligence and security officials.
He said the Security Sector Skill Development Council (SSSDC), constituted by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), was working on that front. The training programme, he said, will also foster more women joining the industry.
Singh said private investigators play a crucial role in protecting and safeguarding intellectual property rights (IPR) of companies.
"Companies are spending huge amounts of money to identify fake products and locate the sources of their origin and the people involved -- whether from within the firm or outside. There are numerous cases of IPR infringement and private investigators play a major role in safeguarding them," he said. -Anurag Dey