Concern over use of GPS-enabled tracking devices on Safai Karamcharis

The use of GPS-enabled devices to record the activities of Safai Karamcharis, especially  women and Dalits, raises legitimate concerns over their privacy, dignity and autonomy.


In Puttaswamy’s (2017) judgment, the right to privacy was held as an indispensable facet of personal liberty. Even though the right to privacy has to be balanced with the legitimate state interest, the restrictions on this right must satisfy the threshold of legality, necessity and proportionality.  On Monday, a few non-governmental organisations expressed serious concerns about the decision of state authorities to use the Global-Positioning System [GPS]-enabled tracking devices on Safai Karamcharis as a violation of not just their right to privacy but also human dignity and autonomy. 

The Internet Freedom Foundation [IFF] along with the All India Lawyers Association for Justice [AILAJ] wrote a joint open letter to the Chairperson of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis [NCSK], M. Venkatesan, expressing their concerns on the Safai Karamcharis being forced to wear GPS-enabled tracking devices by authorities to surveil them during their work hours. IFF, which is a non-profit organisation that advocates for the rights of internet users in India, and AILAJ, a national organisation of legal practitioners, have come forward to uphold the constitutional rights to privacy, dignity and autonomy of the Safai Karamcharis.  

According to the open letter, FTII and AILAJ have received several reports from states like Ranchi, Chandigarh, Nagpur and Ghaziabad, where GPS-enabled devices are currently being used to record the attendance of Safai Karamcharis, monitor their work performance, and safeguard against any falsification of attendance. The use of tracking devices leads to surveillance of Safai Karamcharis and proliferates existing casteist discrimination against them, who already suffer from the dehumanising nature of their work, the letter said.

The use of these devices raises legitimate constitutional concerns, according to Safai Karamcharis in Chandigarh, especially when these devices are used to fine them for taking breaks and push them to work for more hours. Moreover, women Safai Karamcharis are susceptible to becoming a victim of being surveilled by male supervisors. Many of the female Safai Karamcharis, as reported here, have even stopped going to the bathrooms during their shift to avoid being traced in the toilet. 

The justification of the encroachment of privacy can only be done in accordance with the procedure established by law. This is an express requirement as held in the Puttaswamy Judgment.  In Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors. versus the State of Kerala & Ors (1986), in the context of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, it was held that a law cannot be mere executive guidelines or departmental instructions. It should be passed by the Parliament. Further, the law should be based on reasonableness that is, it must not be arbitrary. However, these devices are being used without any legislative framework in place. It must be proportionate to the object and need sought to be fulfilled by the law. These thresholds uphold the protection availed from the golden triangle of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The resultant surveillance is completely disproportionate because it aggravates their already inhumane and dismissal working conditions. There is no urgent need to have these devices in place. Rather, there is a legitimate need to ensure that the safety gear and equipments are given to these workers for their safety. In the light of these concerns, the FTII and AILAJ have recommended the NCSK to adequately compensate the Safai Karamcharis who have been a victim of physical and mental trauma and harassment at the hands of these authorities. Further, they have also recommended that the NCSK must register a complaint against the authorities based on the grievances and reports of this community and pass necessary instructions to stop these degrading practices.

The Leaflet