Skip to main content

CIC asks Labour Commissioner to publish stranded migrants’ data within a week


By Venkatesh Nayak*
Readers might remember my previous despatch about an RTI intervention to obtain access to information about migrant workers stranded in different parts of the country since the nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 began on 25th March 2020. On 8th April, 2020, the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC), under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment had issued a D.O. letter to the Regional Heads stationed in 20 different places across the country to collect details about every stranded migrant worker and send it to New Delhi within three days. On 5th May, 2020, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) had claimed in an unsigned reply, that the Statistics Section of the Office of the CLC did not have this information. I filed a complaint with the CIC, the same day.
On 27th May, 2020, the Central Information Commission (CIC) conducted an out-of-turn hearing of my complaint against the CPIO’s reply, treating it as a matter deserving urgent attention. Now the CIC has issued an advisory to the CLC under Section 25(5) of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) requiring him to cause all available information about stranded migrant workers to be uploaded on an official website within a week’s time, in accordance with Section 4 of the Act. This information is required to be updated from time to time.
Click here to read the CIC’s decision. Click here for the RTI application. Click here for the CPIO’s reply. Click here for the text of the Complaint.
I submitted the following grounds in support of my prayer for proactive disclosure of data about migrant workers:
1) that all the Regional Heads to whom the CLC addressed the D.O. of 08/04/2020 are subject by law to his administrative jurisdiction. There is no reason why the Regional Heads would not have complied with the instructions of the Respondent Public Authority to complete the enumeration exercise and send the data within the time period specified in the said D.O.;
2) that the information sought concerns the lives of not just one person but all migrant workers residing within the territory of India due to the widespread effect of COVID-19. This Complainant searched the website of the Respondent Public Authority for information sought in the instant RTI application before submitting this Complaint After finding that none of the information is disclosed suo motu on the said website, he felt constrained to seek access to such information formally, not for himself alone, but for the benefit of the taxpaying citizenry at large who are dependent on such migrant workers directly or indirectly in a myriad ways;
3) that all the information sought in the instant RTI application is that which ought to have been disclosed by the Respondent Public Authority proactively under Sections 4(1)(c) and 4(1)(d) of the RTI Act read with Section 4(2) of the RTI Act, so that people are not required to file formal RTI applications to obtain access to it;

My additional submissions to the CIC

The CIC granted an out of turn hearing within three weeks of receiving my complaint. On 27th May, 2020, the CPIO and I were heard via telephone because neither of us could travel to the CIC Bhawan during the the fourth phase of the lockdown. The CIC also took note of my additional submission made on the following points (verbally submitted during the hearing and followed it up in writing later on):
1) that as a founder member of the International Labour Organisation which was constituted 101 years ago, in 1919, India had ratified the Labour Statistics Convention, 1985 in April 1992. Under Article 8 of this Convention, India has accepted its international obligation to collect:
“Statistics of the structure and distribution of the economically active population shall be compiled in such a way as to be representative of the country as a whole, for detailed analysis and to serve as benchmark data.”
This obligation includes the duty to collect information about migrant workers also, and that duty existed even before the CLC issued its 8th April, 2020 circular, I argued.
2) that according to the data presented by the Joint Secretary, Union Home Ministry, at a press briefing held on 23rd May, 2020, there were four crore migrant workers across the country. Of these 75 lakh had been ferried to their home States on trains and buses. Even the four crore figure was based on 2011 Census whose detailed Data Tables were released as late as in July 2019. So it is reasonable to expect that this figure had become obsolete and the actual numbers might be much more than what the Government was citing, I argued. Nevertheless, by the Government’s own admission there were 3.25 crore migrant workers who had not yet returned to their home States, I argued. So the collecting and publishing of statistics about migrant workers was as relevant as ever because three quarters of them had to be accounted for. Click here for my additional submission.

The CIC’s decision and reasoning

The CIC took serious note of the issue of stranded migrant workers. In its decision, the CIC extensively cited from the orders of the Supreme Court of India (the suo motu case) and the High Courts of Orissa, Madras and Andhra Pradesh which have already taken judicial notice of the extreme levels of distress and suffering of migrant workers, resulting in scores of deaths.
The CIC has now issued an advisory to the CLC as follows:
“…an advisory is issued u/s 25(5) of the RTI Act to the Chief Labour Commissioner, to suo-moto upload maximum data as available with them in relation to the migrant workers stranded in relief camps or shelters organised by governments or at the workplace of their employers or generally clustered in any district and wherever possible cumulative numbers of the migrant workers and the names of the districts from where the data is collected should also be uploaded in compliance with Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005, having regard to the peculiar circumstances prevalent in the country.
“The website should be continuously updated as and when additional data on this subject matter is received from time to time. The Chief Labour Commissioner is advised to ensure compliance of this advisory in letter and spirit and to submit a compliance report to the Commission within a period of 01 week from today. The present CPIO is directed to serve a copy of this order on the Chief Labour Commissioner for his immediate and necessary action.”
The CIC buttressed its decision with the following reasoning:
“Undoubtedly, the need of the hour is to get concrete data regarding the number of stranded migrant workers across the country so that necessary measures may be taken by the concerned State Governments/ UTs to provide some relief to them…
“…The Commission while verifying the authenticity of this (additional) submission found that India has ratified Article 8 of Part II of the Labour Statistics Convention, 1985 on 01.04.1992 which is still in force and for the purpose of implementing the said ILO Convention, India is under an international obligation to collect data about all categories of workers across India even under normal circumstances.
“This makes it clear that the duty to collect data about migrant workers across India arises not solely from the said D.O. letter but first and foremost from the international obligation as a member of ILO who has ratified the said International Convention. Therefore, the Respondent Authority is under a bounden duty to collect information about migrant workers and make the same publicly accessible even during normal times…
“…Keeping in view the submissions … and the poor response from the respondent, the Commission considers the contentions of the complainant to be well founded, and strongly opines that what is required is to immediately place the data regarding migrant workers on the website of the Respondent Authority. It is pertinent to note that given the uncertainties of the present times, any further delay in disclosing these details or evading the disclosure will only compound the difficulties of either side, the government and that of the unfortunate migrant workers…
“…Moreover, being a matter of national importance during this pandemic, it is likely that there will be more requests for information on similar lines from the citizens in the immediate future which necessitates expeditious action on the part of the Respondent office to voluntarily disclose as much data as possible so that citizens do not have to file RTI Applications to seek such basic yet significant information. Section 4(2) of RTI Act may be noted in this regard which mandates every public authority to provide as much information suo- moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication, including the Internet, so that the public need not resort to the use of RTI Act…
“…Moreover, the purpose and object of the promulgation of the RTI Act, 2005 was to make the public authorities more transparent and accountable to the public and to provide freedom to every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest, in order to promote openness, transparency and accountability in administration and in relation to matters connected therewith or incidental thereto….
“…The foregoing … lend adequate emphasis on the need for the Respondent office to act in a manner which is favourable to dispensation of justice. Although this bench is conscious of the fact that under Section 18 of the RTI Act, directions for disclosure of information is not warranted, however, keeping in view the extraordinary circumstances that necessitated this complaint, it is prudent to cloak the requirement of the Complainant in the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.
“In doing so, the Commission invokes section 25(5) of the RTI Act and issues an advisory to the respondent authority to maintain a robust and dynamic website for placing all data related to migrant workers therein as and when it is received from different Regional Heads. At this point, it is necessary for the CPIO to put his best possible efforts to collect this data from different Regional Heads and place the same on their website immediately even if it is done in a piece meal manner. It is also necessary to continue to update this data from time to time as additional data is received from various quarters.”

End Note

The first step towards resolving a problem in public administration is to collect adequate information and data about the problem. That crucial step in the case of migrant workers was initiated late. Even now, there is very little credible information about the actual number of migrant workers stranded in various parts of the country.
The CLC’s D. O. of 8th April, 2020 was a step in the right direction, but its outcomes are hidden from public view. Meanwhile, innumerable migrant workers continue to suffer despite the well-meaning efforts of various authorities and private actors. I hope the CLC will take the CIC’s advisory seriously and make data about migrant workers available in the public domain in real time. It is only on the basis of reliable information that further interventions can be planned in a systematic manner.

*Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Mental health: We talk of poverty figures, but not increase in suicides since 2014

By IMPRI Team Highlighting  the issue of mental health and addressing the challenges involved, # IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Institutional Support for Mental Health and Wellbeing under the #WebPolicyTalk series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps . The discussion was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI and Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai . The distinguished panel included – Prof Anuradha Sovani, Former Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, and Former Dean, Faculty of Humanities at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai and National Core Committee member and Ethics Committee Chairperson, Association of Adolescent and Child Care India ; Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at Indian Law Society, Pune ; Dr Swati Rane, Founder CEO at SevaShakti Healthcare Consultancy, Mumbai and Founder V

How India, Bangladesh perceive, manage Sunderbans amidst climate change

By IMRPI Team The effects of climate change have been evident, and there have been a lot of debates around the changes to be made locally to help and save the earth. In this light, the nations met at the COP 26 conference recently. To discuss this further, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi , organized a panel discussion on “COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptations in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans” under the #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks . The talk was chaired by Dr Jayanta Basu, Director, Non-profit EnGIO, Faculty at Calcutta University and an Environmental Journalist, The Telegraph , ABP . The Moderator of the event, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI , started the discussion by stressing the talk on the living conditions of people living in the Sunderbans Delta from both the countries, i.e. India and Bangladesh. According to the report

NEP: Education must shift away from knowledge, move to teaching students

Dr Anjusha Gawande* The Education sector in the globe is changing dramatically. Many manual jobs may be captured over by machines as a consequence of multiple spectacular advances in science and technology, including the machine learning, and artificial intelligence. A professional workforce, particularly one that includes mathematics, computer science, and data science, as well as multidisciplinary competencies in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be in incredibly popular. As a result, education must shift away from knowledge and toward teaching students, how to be creative and transdisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and process information differently in innovative and rapidly changing sectors. The education development agenda at the global level is represented in Goal 4 (SDG4) of India's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015. Ministry of Education has announced the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) on 29.07.2020. In J

Dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and sustainable growth of mediocrity

By Arup Mitra* The theory of mediocrity would suggest that the meritorious who are always small in number as a nature’s gift will be dominated by a vast number of mediocre as the latter cannot withstand the inferiority they suffer from. By subjugating the merit, they derive a pleasure of having established their superiority. Such processes are functional in all spheres in life though the field of art is the worst sufferer. An artist mind is most sensitive and those who are meritorious in this lot possess exceptionally different traits. This makes them more vulnerable and, on the other hand, it paves the path of the mediocre to cast their shadows all around. Unjust and strong criticisms are sufficient to detract many. In developing countries, the modes of subjugation are many. Individuals do not hesitate to take recourse to criminal means as the subconscious prevalent with vengeance, accesses easily the outlets for execution. The lack of civility and the power of money form a unique com

Migrant problem during Covid and the role of equality for cohesive development

By IMPRI Team  The covid-19 pandemic has deepened the pre-existing inequalities across socio-economic groups, the distressing images of migrants’ exposure remained attached in our minds but not a lot has changed in terms of data collection and policy making since then to understand the role of equality for cohesive development. Cohesive development also means that human beings should respect the boundaries of nature which they cross at their own peril and the peril of other living beings on earth. In lieu to this, The State of Development Discourses – #CohesiveDevelopment, #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , #IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute , New Delhi organized #WebPolicyTalk with Prof Amiya Kumar Bagchi, on The Role of Equality for Cohesive Development. The session is inaugurated by Ms Mahima Kapoor, researcher and assistant editor at IMPRI. Ms Mahima Kapoor extended her gratitude to the speaker, moderator and the discussant. The moderator for the eve

Parallel govts: How unity of various streams of freedom movements took shape in India

By Bharat Dogra  In one of the most inspiring examples of highly courageous spontaneous actions based on the unity of people, parallel governments were formed by freedom fighters in several parts of India in the course of the Quit India Movement in 1942. Although generally four such leading efforts have been identified in Satara (Maharashtra), Talcher (Odisha), Tamluk (West Bengal) and Ballia (Uttar Pradesh), there were some other smaller efforts as well such as those in Bhagalpur (Bihar) and Gurpal (Balasore, Odisha). It is very interesting to see in most of these efforts (also very significant for understanding the freedom movement) that there was constant merging of the various streams of the freedom movement, with more militant activities openly taking place with the help of quickly mobilized militias and this being combined with various constructive programs emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi such as anti-liquor efforts and anti-untouchability movements. In addition we see actions in

West Bengal police inaction in immoral trafficking case of a Muslim woman

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, on Muslim woman victim trafficking, police inaction, and need immediate rescue: I am writing to inform you about a case of illegal trafficking and profuse police inaction regarding the same of a marginalized Muslim teenager named Anima Khatun (name changed), daughter of Mr. Osman Ali. The victim and her husband had been residents of the village Daribas, under Dinhata police station Cooch Behar district since their marriage in 2014. Six months following their marriage, Anima Khatun along with her husband, sister-in-law, sister-in-law's husband as well as her in-laws shifted to Delhi in search of work. They stayed there for 2 years after which they all came back to their native village. They stayed at their native residence for about one month and then they went back to Delhi. In Delhi, Anima was in touch with her family till the next six months, after which t

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Bangladesh sets shining example of communal peace, harmony in South Asia

By Dr. Abantika Kumari Bangladesh is made up of 160 million people who are multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees all citizens the freedom to freely and peacefully practice their chosen religions. Religious minorities make up roughly 12% of Bangladesh's present population, according to conservative estimates . Hindus account for 10% of the population, Buddhists for 1%, Christians at 0.50 percent, and ethnic minorities for less than 1%. As an example of how people of different religions can live together, cooperate together, and simply be together, Bangladesh is regarded. Bangladesh is a country that values religious liberty, harmony, and tolerance. Bangladesh's population is made up of a diverse spectrum of religious groupings and ethnic groups. Such communities and groups live in harmony, putting aside their differences and learning to embrace and respect the diverse and diversified culture that has contributed to Bangladesh

Political leaders' actions are causing decontextualisation of democracy

By Harasankar Adhikari In India, does democracy become a matter of prescription, i.e., to follow the footpath left? Isn't it, in some ways, the adoption of certain prescribed procedures and mechanisms, such as timely election and populist schemes for the poor, etc.? In some cases, acts of government and governance turn democracy into a myth. It is full of political party-based agendas. This continuous hegemonic practise creates a conditional situation for the people of India. People elect their representatives who are not their representatives. They are only representatives of a particular political party that nominated them in the election. Democratic decentralisation of power is undoubtedly a unique step towards the grass roots. But a Panchayat member has no free will to act without the party’s instruction and approval. Michael Saward, a political philosopher, defines democracy as a matter of correspondence in state-society relationships. But India’s parliamentary democracy is un