6 months on, still no update from municipal corporations on the ongoing surveillance of sanitation workers

We wrote to the 4 municipal corporations that were directed by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis to furnish a status report on the ongoing surveillance of sanitation workers.

30 March, 2023
3 min read

tl;dr

In September 2022, the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (“NCSK”), in a significant step, directed four municipal corporations using GPS tracking devices on sanitation workers - in Ranchi, Chandigarh, Ghaziabad and Nagpur - to furnish a factual report to them. This was in response to a joint letter signed by 18 organisations and 187 individuals. IFF and the All India Lawyers Association For Justice (“AILAJ”) were co-signatories to this letter and had raised concerns about the unconstitutional surveillance of sanitation workers. On March 28, 2023, we sent the municipal corporations follow-up letters inquiring about the status of these factual reports.

Why should you care?

The use of GPS tracking devices violates the right to life, dignity, and privacy of sanitation workers. In the case of the sanitation workers in these municipal corporations especially, surveillance of this nature also perpetuates caste-based discrimination, while raising mental and physical health concerns. It is essential to prevent against the normalisation of workplace surveillance; in this context especially, it is also important to protect the connected human rights of those who do not have the power to fight back effectively. Ensuring that measures enquiring about such surveillance are monitored in their implementation is an inherent part of this process so that accountability is maintained in the system.

Background

In April 2022, reports detailing the use of GPS tracking devices on sanitation workers by the Ranchi Municipal Corporation came to light. AILAJ reached out to us shortly thereafter to initiate a joint representation expressing our concerns surrounding these violations. We wrote a joint letter dated May 30, 2022 to the NCSK, urging the Commission to investigate these reports and take necessary steps to see that the rights of the Safai Karamcharis were adequately safeguarded. The letter received endorsements by 18 organisations and 187 individuals.

We then filed a Right to Information application (“RTI”) dated June 7, 2022 with the Municipal Corporations of Chandigarh, Ranchi, Nagpur, and Ghaziabad; in response, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation stated that they had been using “human tracking watches” to monitor their field sanitation staff since August 1, 2020. In light of this information - and given NCSK’s lack of response - we sent a follow-up letter to the Commission reiterating our concerns on August 08, 2022.

On September 13, 2022, we received a response form NCSK, which stated that the NCSK had asked the Commissioners of the Municipal Corporations of Chandigarh, Ranchi, Ghaziabad and Nagpur to investigate and furnish a factual report on the concerns in the joint letter.

Our letter

While we were grateful for the NCSK’s response and their request to these Municipal Corporations, the reports in question have not yet been published. We thus wrote a letter on March 28, 2023, to the Municipal Corporations directly, inquiring about the status of the reports and emphasising the concerns we had mentioned in our original submission.

Some of our recommendations in the joint letter included a detailed investigation on the physical and/or mental trauma, harassment, and any other difficulties faced by sanitation workers due to these surveillance practices. We also recommended that these workers be adequately compensated for their experiences. We hope that both the Commission and the Municipal Corporations will heed these recommendations, and continue to take steps to protect the rights of sanitation workers. We, too, will continue to monitor and update you on the steps taken by all concerned stakeholders.  

Important documents

  1. Follow-up letter seeking update on the status of factual reports from Municipal Corporations on March 28, 2023 (link)
  2. The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis takes action action to protect sanitation workers from surveillance - dated September 15, 2022 (link)

This post was drafted by IFF Policy Intern Ishika Ray Chaudhuri and reviewed by the IFF Policy Team.

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