It took the brutal murder of a 25-year-old girl for the city to wake up to a problem it has allowed to fester.
Pallavi Purkayastha's murder exposed the grave risk Mumbaiites choose to endure every day, first by hiring security guards without conducting background checks, then by assuming that hiring a watchman is enough to keep them safe.
On the night of August 8, when a watchman at Purkhayastha's building sneaked into her house and slashed her to death, he also unwittingly ripped into this misplaced sense of security.
Investigation into the background of Sajjad Mughal, who allegedly murdered the Wadala lawyer, revealed that the security agency who deputed him did not have any mechanism to verify the sparse details he provided when he sought a job.
Mughal gave his employer, Borivli-based AH Enterprises, a vague address in Baramullah district of Jammu & Kashmir.
Experts say this is hardly surprising.
Of the 1,000-odd security agencies in the city, only 500 operate with valid licences. Of these 500 licensed agencies, only 5% provide guards for private housing societies, effectively increasing the possibility that guards deputed at housing societies have questionable, or at the least, unverified backgrounds.
"Despite the government having prescribe a monthly wage of Rs. 7,434 for security guards, housing societies choose to pay them meagre salaries. Hence, most security agencies find it profitable to provide guards to commercial establishments," said Gurcharan Singh, president of the Security Association of India (SAI).
"As a result, housing societies usually hire through illegal agencies, and compromise on their security, consequences of which are seen through brutal murders like that of Purkayastha," he added.
A few years ago, police cracked down on security guards who used fake gun licences. However, industry professionals claim the crackdown was largely ineffective as it was restricted to licensed security agencies.
"The illegal agencies are spared police action and act at whim, hiring people with fake gun licences and, in some cases, unverified criminal backgrounds," Singh said.
Industry sources said that until a few years ago, several people from Nagaland would procure fake gun licenses and, on migrating to Mumbai, would secure jobs as guards. Although such persons have been ejected by licensed agencies, illegal firms continue to employ them.
Police say such persons often take shortcuts to procure gun licences, as the legal procedure is cumbersome. A person seeking a gun licence has to prove that his/her security is at risk, something private guards obviously fail to establish.
But a gun licence is critical for a security guard, because it guarantees a hefty salary increase.
"The government-prescribed salary for a security guard is Rs. 7,434. But if he is eligible to carry a gun, the guard's pay can go up to Rs. 15,000. Hence, a lot of people acquire fake licences to work as security guards," he added.