Image: Twitter/ Tukaram Mundhe
Nagpur Municipal Commissioner Tukaram Mundhe on July 27 shared a video on social media. Highlighting the use of technology in governance, the video featured the use of GPS-enabled smart watches by sanitation workers in the city.
Mundhe explained the use of the surveillance method to track the city's sanitation workers and ensure maximum attendance, penalising those who are found guilty of dereliction of their duties.
He emphasised how the "use of technology can improve governance leading to efficiency and better utilisation of resources." He added that developmental and civic issues can be addressed swiftly if technology is used as an enabler.
All about Nagpur's GPS-enabled smart watches for surveillance
The project that the city municipal commissionar was publicising in the video is not a new one. In fact, the Nagpur Municipal Commission (NMC) had launched the tracking system in 2018 under its Smart City project. It was aimed at keeping a check on the attendance of sanitation staff and also linking salary disbursal to the same.
Under this, sanitation workers in the city are made to wear wrist watches via which their live location can be tracked. The NMC collaborated with Bengaluru-based ITI Limited, a government undertaking, to introduced this surveillance system. As per reports, NMC officials said Rs 207 per month towards rental charges for the 8,000 wrist watches was being paid in advance for seven years.
A proposal was also reportedly made for the introduction of such tracking systems to monitor attendance of teachers and doctors in NMC-run schools and hospitals, in order to bring more 'discipline' among them.
Local administrations across India are resorting to tech solutions like the use of such GPS watches as part of the push to develop smart cities. However, there have been concerns regarding how such initiatives violate the privacy of workers.
The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) of the Government of India aims to usher in use of ICT interventions for e-governance, online government services, and for improving the efficiency of core services at a relatively lower cost. The idea is to develop cities that provide core infrastructure and a decent quality of life to citizens, a clean and sustainable environment, and apply 'smart' solutions.
Problems with the initiative
The main idea behind this project — tracking workers' live location and releasing salaries based on the attendance logged in through the tracking system, have not materialised. As per a TOI report, about 14 months after the launch of the GPS watches for sanitation workers, the system could still not provide live locations and data was available only with a lag of a few hours. Due to this, all data from the system had to be collected at the end of the day, and hence any action would have to be taken only the next day.
Also, the report notes that salaries of workers was still being disbursed based on manual attendance logs since there were issues in the GPS watch-based attendance system, according to officials quoted.
Sanitation workers across India protest against surveillance system
Earlier this year, sanitation workers in different parts of the country voiced their opposition to the use of such tracking systems to monitor their work.
A similar initiative was launched in Chandigarh in February this year, wherein workers are mandated to wear the GPS watches during their working hours. However, around 500 workers reportedly refused to comply with the directive.
The watches provide data on how many hours workers spend at work, how many breaks they take, and the number of work orders they respond to. Privacy and data experts flagged the concerns around the potential misuse of such data in the absence of a solid, comprehensive data protection law in India.