Wage War on NRC: Workers Involved in Assam Exercise Fight for Unpaid Salaries
The data entry operators have lodged a complaint with the state labour department, highlighting low and irregular payment of salaries. As many as 7,000 such workers were hired by Guwahati-based Integrated Systems & Services (ISS) following an agreement between the firm and Wipro Limited, which won the contract of system integration in the NRC.
Illustration/ Mir Suhail
Data entry operators who were engaged with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam are knocking on the doors of government offices to recover a part of their salaries more than five months after the exercise drew to a close.
The workers have not yet received their pay of four months out of a total of about five years that they were involved in the exercise. Each operator was paid Rs 5,050 every month, though a sum of Rs 14,500 was allocated by the government.
As many as 7,000 data entry operators were recruited by Guwahati-based Integrated Systems & Services (ISS) following a contract between the firm and Wipro Limited.
The contract of system integration in the NRC was awarded to Wipro after a tender was floated for the job. The updating exercise was undertaken by the Registrar General of India and funded by the ministry of home affairs.
The ‘updated final’ National Register of Citizens, meant to target illegal migrants, was published in Assam on August 31 last year and left out 19 lakh people. Union home minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha in November that the NRC would be updated again in the state along with the rest of the country.
Soon after the register was published last year, the labour commissionerate of Assam government slapped a legal suit on Wipro for not obtaining the mandatory contract labour licence for the NRC project.
The data operators had also lodged a complaint with the department against the firm, highlighting the low and irregular payment of salaries. They also alleged that they were compelled to work on holidays without payment of overtime wages.
Inconclusive meeting on November 15
A meeting held in Guwahati on November 15 last year between representatives of the data entry operators, labour department and Wipro, however, remained inconclusive. It was decided in the meeting that a date for the payment of salaries to the operators would be fixed by the firm and intimated to the department by November 20.
The minutes of the meeting prepared by the department also recorded Wipro Limited’s contention that “ISS (Integrated Systems & Services) is the sub-contractor and is solely responsible for the payment of the data entry operators”.
However, employees of ISS clarified that salaries were being disbursed immediately after funds were received which had been erratic.
Subsequently, Wipro again submitted a letter to the department requesting for the extension of time up to December 10 for submission of its final decision regarding the salary.
“But Wipro Limited has not yet specified any date for clearance of our salaries. It appears to us that the firm has not given any importance to the matter,” said Abdul Rashid, president of the Data Entry Operators’ Association. “We will request the labour commissionerate to issue a deadline to the firm within a few days.”
CAG indication of financial anomaly
The current status of and complaints submitted by the data entry operators are a stark reflection of the chaos that prevailed when the NRC was being updated. The government was seemingly unprepared for the jumbo exercise and the Supreme Court’s deadlines only compelled the secretariat to accomplish the task without quality checks. Nor was there a monitoring committee for the exercise which could have submitted regular reports either to the government or the apex court.
Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) also unearthed financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 108 crore in the exercise. An estimated Rs 1,600 crore was spent in updating the register.
CAG had submitted an “inspection report” for the period April 1, 2014 - December 3, 2017 to the coordinator of NRC with a request to furnish the reply within a month. A copy of the report was also sent to the state government.
A senior official of the state finance department was quoted by media saying that CAG’s findings were of “serious concern” since they could be symptomatic of serious procedural loopholes and lapses in the entire exercise.
He pointed out that Rs 905.72 crore was released between 2013-14 and 2017-18, and that an additional financial burden of Rs 19,43,93,362 was incurred due to unnecessary purchase of printer cartridges across all the thirty-three districts in the state.
The report also points towards lack of transparency in the selection of system integrator Wipro Limited. It was tasked to set up 1,500 seva kendras for the update of the NRC but an additional 1,000 such centres were established which was found “unjustified” by CAG.
Assam Public Works (APW), the non-governmental organisation on whose public interest litigation the Supreme Court had ordered the update of the NRC, has been demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the financial anomalies during the exercise. APW has highlighted the issue in a fresh affidavit submitted to Supreme Court which also makes a case for 100 per cent reverification of the names included in the register.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views expressed are personal)
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