Workers in Chandigarh have been protesting the forceful implementation of the Human Efficiency Tracking System (HETS) on the sanitation workers watches everyday since February this year till the time the lockdown began.
This system is being implemented across 7 municipalities in the country. They are Panchkula, Nagpur, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Mysore where they are currently under use. These Smart watches, which the workers have to wear mandatorily tracks them at all hours when they are at work and after work.
Such technology will ensure that workers will have to take mandatory pay cuts if they take a break or complaints registered against them even if they cross a road and go into a zone earmarked as someone else’s ‘route’. Women workers have complaint about how they feel insecure to use toilets while having to wear these watches, as in some cities, it has been reported that they also have cameras and a sensor attached to it. What these watches essentially do is to monitor every movement of the worker which is monitored in real time from command and control centers in most municipalities. Apart from workers on the road, these command and control centers also monitor Municipal vehicles meant for waste clearance through a GPS tracker.
Activists and workers have been raising the issue of dignity and privacy while opposing these initiatives. Workers have continuously raised the issue of provision of protective gears, PPE kits especially during the pandemic, where, as frontline workers they have been pressed into service in all Municipalities without the protection of ‘Stay at homes’ and ‘Social distancing’. We all know how without any provision for travel, sanitation workers have walked for hours to keep cities clean, a job enforced upon them because of a wretched caste system. This is how the rest of the country undertook social distancing with these frontline workers. While lakhs of rupees have been spent on technology that has no social utility, but only penalizes workers in the name of efficiency. Governments will use these watches for hire and fire, and fire any worker who opposed work or fights for their rights, as now their active hours are being clocked through a system in which workers have no control.
With targets to be achieved under swatch Bharath and Smart Cities Mission, governments across cities have been experimenting with invasive technologies, and enforcing it in the name of accountability and transparency. Under these schemes, ‘citizens’ are being encouraged to report garbage or file complaints if their city is dirty through Apps and social media platforms. Indirectly, upper caste/ class citizens of the cities, who make the most consumption is given the right to complain against dalit sanitation workers for not keeping the city clean, and guess what, they might just also have suspensions and wage cuts in store for them!
India is becoming an emerging market for both Indian and foreign private companies selling surveillance technologies. Today, most of their revenue is from government, including central, state and municipal bodies. Drone cameras, facial recognition and many such technologies are being introduced today, very arbitrarily and without any legal framework governing their use. With the pandemic, many of these technologies have been introduced in the name of managing lockdown and people’s mobility.
Most experiments in this country are undertaken on the most marginalized- like Aadhaar which was tested primarily in jails and rural poor, soon these watches will be made mandatory on everyone. In such a world, where data driven profit seems to have acquired new heights, it is crucial that workers organisations, unions and all progressive people oppose these initiatives by the government that seek to only control and surveil workers bodies.