The issue around digital privacy, or rather the lack of it, has been a hot topic of debate in India and has even made its way to the Parliamentary lobbies. In India, personal data is collected and stored by various merchants, big tech companies and other entities through the innumerable digital applications and devices that people use. From digital payment and ecommerce applications to social media platforms, personal data collection and storage is happening en masse, all while individuals still scramble to understand its repercussions. What’s worse — this personal, often sensitive information including financial and medical records, of millions of Indians is available for sale online through “data brokers” who have put a price tag to these records.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH MUNICIPAL WORKERS IN INDIA
Going a step further, there is an urgent need to look into this invasion of digital privacy from the lens of India’s municipal workers. Over the past few years, there have been several news pieces buried amid the bulk of eye-catching headlines, about municipal workers across several Indian cities being made to wear smartwatches to track their daily working hours. As per news reports, municipal corporations in cities like Nagpur and Chandigarh have made it mandatory for sanitation workers to wear GPS-enabled watches that are used to monitor their arrival at work, attendance record, number of hours clocked at work and the end of their shifts. The reports suggest that some of these watches have in-built cameras and microphones to allow the supervisors to monitor them by the minute. To make things worse, any discrepancy in the recorded number of hours at work is reportedly manifesting itself in the form of workers’ salary deductions. Thus, workers have been protesting the use of these digital trackers as being humiliating and violating their privacy in the garb of improving work efficiency.
INFRINGEMENT OF WORKERS’ RIGHT TO PRIVACY
The fact that sanitation workers are often unaware of the ramifications of surveillance of this kind, as is enabled by these digital trackers, goes to show how their informed and aware consent is not likely sought while implementing this technology. In this case in particular, the employer being the State, these rules amount to digital snooping on citizens by a government. This form of a ‘surveillance state’ directly impinges on citizens’ right to privacy, a fundamental right that flows from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors.). While one can argue that this right is not absolute and there can be certain grounds for restricting the same (legitimate state interest, necessary and proportionate to achieve the interest, among other things), this is a justification that would hold up when a comprehensive and well-defined legislation is in place to regulate the collection and storage of such personal data of citizens.
EXISTING LEGAL FRAMEWORK ON PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION
At present, the only legislation that to some extent deals with the handling of personal data of individuals is the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2008, and the subsequent rules framed by the government. However, the coverage of this law is very limited in that it does not apply to collection and use of personal data by various entities (Section 43A of the IT Act 2000 recognises personal data dealings by a ‘body corporate’ and the compensation in that regard). It primarily focusses on information security as opposed to personal data protection. There exist other sectoral, subject-specific laws that regulate data dissemination in the respective segments, however, these are very narrow in their scope of protection. Further, while the Privacy Rules 2011 define what comes under the meaning of personal information and sensitive personal data, but how far the data collecting entities adhere to compliance standards and rules on storage and disclosure, grievance redressal and user safety is a big question mark.
The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, can be viewed as a step in the direction of chalking out the contours of digital privacy and collection, storage and dissemination of personal data of individuals in India. To begin with, the bill seeks to define what all would come within the ambit of ‘personal data’, and would govern the processing of personal data by governments, Indian and foreign companies. This is especially significant as it would plug the gaps that exist in the IT Act and rules subsequent thereof. Further, it would also outline the rights of individuals with respect to their personal data and the remedies available. However, it has been in the pipeline for some time, with objections having been raised over several aspects of the proposed law.
THE WHYS AND HOWS BEHIND THIS DIGITAL SURVEILLANCE
The recent mandate by city municipal corporations requiring workers to wear the digital trackers (Human Efficiency Tracking Systems, as they’re being referred to) takes on another hue when viewed from the lens of worker exploitation. Reports suggest that the trackers are being used to map the daily hours of every employee, and failure to wear the watch at all times or getting disconnected could result in salary deductions. Also, in the event of device malfunction, the workers would have to bear the brunt of the pay cut despite having clocked their daily hours. How and when such grievances would be addressed and dealt with is not very clear. Thus, workers’ woes take a backseat in the productivity and efficiency-focused surveillance work environment. Since municipal workers and sanitation staff employed by city corporations are usually not very tech-savvy or comfortable with tech-based gadgets, they are wary of how the system works. It can result in unnecessary anxiety regarding loss of earnings due to technical glitches.
Another issue is the alleged in-built cameras and microphones in these trackers. For workers who are not very well versed in such gadgets, the fear of being watched constantly could be debilitating, more so in the case of female workers. Their movement at work is tracked down to minutes, even seconds, linking the same to productivity targets and goals. Failure to meet these targets and minute-to-minute monitoring requirements could lead to reduction in the month-end salary payments. Automated workplace management is a concern that is prevalent across countries, and a parallel can be seen in the surveillance systems implemented by tech giant Amazon at its warehouses across the United States. The hazards of this surveillance system, like higher rate of injuries at workplace or even leaving workers without bathroom breaks, is similar to what is being witnessed in the case of India’s digitally-tracked municipal workers. The only major difference in the above-mentioned sets of scenarios is the place of occurrence and the entity engaging in worker surveillance. In India, the State is the data collector, often times undertaking this feat with the help of a third-party IT services firm. This makes the workers’ situation more precarious as their personal, sensitive information could be easily accessible to such contractual firms, especially in the absence of a data privacy law to regulate the same.
With increasing technological advancement and innovation, the cost of such surveillance methods has dropped, thus making it easier and more convenient for employers to adopt and implement. In contrast, this weakens the position of workers and the unions advocating for them as there is limited knowledge and legal recourse in this regard.
Thus, these GPS trackers are problematic on various fronts- they infringe individual privacy, operate in regulatory grey areas (as there is no proper oversight) and finally and most importantly, they constantly dehumanize the workers by treating them in a manner similar to bonded labour and robots. The human element of taking into account genuine issues being faced by employees or the context as to why they may not have been available on the tracking systems throughout the day (like poor internet connection, device malfunction, etc.) is completely ignored and disregarded.
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Disproportionate assets case: Delhi High Court stays Lokpal proceedings initiated against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren
On Monday, the Delhi High Court has stayed the proceedings initiated by Lokpal of India under the provisions of the Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act, 2013 against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Chief and Rajya Sabha MP Shibu Soren in connection with a disproportionate case of assets.
The bench comprising of Justice Yashwant Varma observed and has passed an order on Soren’s plea challenging the validity of the said proceedings, claiming that the same was ex facie bad in law and without jurisdiction.
In the present case, the proceedings were initiated by Lokpal of India pursuant to a complaint dated August 5, 2020 filed by BJP’s Nishikant Dubey. Therefore, it has been directed by the CBI to make a preliminary enquiry into the Complaint under section 20(1)(a) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. It was claimed by Soren that the said order was not served on him.
While claiming the complaint was false, frivolous and vexatious, Soren in his plea submitted that according to section 53 of the Act and there is a statutory bar against the Lokpal of India assuming jurisdiction to investigate or inquire into any Complaint made after the expiry of seven years from the offence alleged.
The plea reads that the initiation of the proceedings under the Complaint, or at the very least, continuation thereof, once it has been demonstrated by the preliminary inquiry that it pertains to alleged acquisitions prior to the 7-year period and is clearly barred by statute, without jurisdiction and the same is liable to be quashed.
Further, the petition filled submits that the maximum period of 180 days for completion of preliminary enquiry from the date of Complaint expired on February 1, 2021. In this backdrop, it has been stated that by this time, only on July 1, 2021, the comments were sought from Soren which is beyond the prescribed statutory period.
The plea adds that the final preliminary enquiry report was submitted by the CBI on 29.06.2022, about a year and a half after expiry of the 180- day period. Such purported report is void and null and non-est in the eyes of law and cannot be received or considered by the Respondent No.1.
Thus, the court took note of the order passed by Lokpal of India dated August 4, 2022 directing that proceedings under section 20(3) of the Lokpal Act be initiated to determine whether a prima facie case existed to be proceeded against Soren. It is Soren’s case that the order was passed without considering the preliminary objection on jurisdiction being raised by him.
In the said order, the court noted that all the Lokpal of India recorded was that the comments received from the petitioner were forwarded to CBI so as to examine and submit an enquiry report.
It was ordered by the court that the challenge to assumption of jurisdiction by respondent no. 1 (the Lokpal of India) has neither been answered and nor dealt with. Matters require consideration. Subsequently, there will be a stay of proceedings pending before the Lokayukta.
Accordingly, the court will now hear the matter on 14 December.
DELHI HC SETS ASIDE MURDER CONVICTION & LIFE SENTENCE OF MAN WHO WAS UNPRESENTED BY LAWYER; REMANDS CASTE BACK TO TRIAL COURT
The Delhi High Court in the case Narender @ Lala v. State Of NCT Of Delhi observed and has set aside the orders of conviction for murder and sentence of life imprisonment awarded to a man in 2018 who was unrepresented by a lawyer before the Trial Court. Thus, the Delhi High Court has remanded the case back to the Trial Court for cross examination of certain prosecution witnesses.
The division bench comprising of Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice Anish Dayal observed and was of the view that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice to the man as when number of witnesses were examined, he was not represented by a counsel and that the legal aid counsel, who was present before Trial Court and was appointed on the same day and asked to cross- examine the witnesses on the same day.
On March, 2018, Narender was convicted for offence of murder punishable under section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. On 4th May, 2018, he was sentenced by the Trial Court for life imprisonment and also to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000.
In the present case, the case of the prosecution was that the man had committed murder of his wife by strangulating her to death.
In a appeal, it was argued by the man that during the substantial course of trial, he was not represented by a lawyer and hence the trial in the absence of a lawyer had seriously prejudiced him. He thus sought recalling of all the prosecution witnesses and thereby ensuring a fair trial.
The Court observed that the manner in which the trial is conducted, there was a serious denial of fair trial to the appellant and the appellant is required to be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses i.e., the witnesses examined in the absence of the lawyer, or the lawyer having been appointed on the same day from the legal aid and is asked to cross-examine the witnesses.
Further, the court remanded the back to Trial Court for cross-examination of ten prosecution witnesses. Also, the court directed the Trial Court Judge to follow due process of law and also to record the statement of the man under Section 313 CrPC and permit leading the defence evidence if so required.
The Court ordered that the case be listed before the learned Trial Court on 26th September, when Superintendent Tihar Jail will product the appellant before the learned Trial Court and the learned Trial Court is requested to expedite the trial and conclude the same preferably within four months.
SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO ENTERTAIN PLEA CHALLENGING EXCLUSION OF SC/ST RESERVATION IN JHARKHAND DISTRICT JUDGES APPOINTMENT
The Supreme Court in the case Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Educational And Cultural Trust v. Hon’ble High Court Jharkhand And Ors. observed and has refused to entertain a plea challenging the non-inclusion of reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes communities in the process of appointment of District Judges in pursuant to an advertisement issued in March, 2022 by the High Court of Jharkhand. The present petition claimed that the exclusion of reservation violates Jharkhand State Reservation Policy and constitutional guarantee under Article 16(4). Apart from this, it is also in derogation of a resolution being passed by the High Court vouching to implement reservation in the Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service.
The bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and the Justice Hima Kohli observed and has granted liberty to the petitioner to file a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Jharkhand High Court.
The court while considering that the process of appointment as per the concerned notification is underway, Justice Chandrachud asked the petitioner to approach the High Court with respect to future appointments.
It stated that “For the future you can file a petition before the High Court… We will give you liberty to approach the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.”
The bench of Justice Chandrachud observed that the Decisions of the Administrative side of the High Court can be challenged before the judicial side of the High Court. You can move the High Court.
In the present case, a writ petition challenging a similar notification was filed in 2017 before the High Court, which was eventually dismissed. It was observed by the High Court that there is no duty vested in the authorities to reserve seats for all posts, more particularly in higher judiciary. Moreover, it had already initiated the appointment process, the High Court opined that it cannot alter the rules midway. Thus, the appeal filed before the Apex Court was also dismissed.
However, in 2018 the Full Court of the Jharkhand High Court had agreed in principle to grant reservation in the recruitment for Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service. The advocates belonging to the SC/ST/OBC communities in 2021 had made representations to the Chief Justice of the High Court requesting for the implementation of the Reservation policy in appointment of District Judges (direct entry from Bar)/ superior judicial service. The impugned notification was issued without incorporating reservation for SC/ST/OBC communities in March 2022.
Mr. Arvind Gupta, Advocate on Record has filled the present petition.
Right to contest election is not a fundamental right; it is only a right conferred by statute: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in the case Vishwanath Pratap Singh vs Election Commission of India observed that the right to contest an election is not a fundamental right but only a right conferred by a statute.
The bench comprising of Justice Hemant Gupta and the Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia observed while dismissing a Special Leave Petition filed by Vishwanath Pratap Singh that an individual cannot claim that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as is required under the Act, to file his nomination without any proposer.
Also, the court imposed a cost of Rupees one lakh on Singh.
In the present case, Singh had first approached the Delhi High Court challenging a notification issued by Election Commission of India for election to Rajya Sabha after he was not allowed to file his nomination without a proper proposer being proposing his name. His contentions were rejected by the High Court that his fundamental right of free speech and expression and right to personal liberty has been infringed.
While dismissing the SLP, the Apex Court observed that the writ petition before the High Court was entirely misconceived.
The bench observed while referring to earlier judgments viz Javed v. State of Haryana, (2003) 8 SCC 369 and Rajbala v. State of Haryana (2016) 2 SCC 445 wherein it was stated that the right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right. It is a right conferred by a statute.
However, the Supreme Court in Javed (supra) had made the following observations: Right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right and it is a right conferred by a statute. At the most, in view of Part IX having been added in the Constitution of India that a right to contest election for an office in Panchayat may be said to be a constitutional right and a right originating in the Constitution and given shape by a statute. But even if, it cannot be equated with a fundamental right. It is stated that there is nothing wrong in the same statute which confers the right to contest an election also to provide for the necessary qualifications without which a person cannot offer his candidature for an elective office and also to provide for disqualifications which would disable a person from contesting for, or from holding, an elective statutory office.
It was held in Rajbala (supra) that the right to contest for a seat in either of the two bodies is subject to certain constitutional restrictions and could be restricted further only by a law which the parliament made.
Further, the court added that Singh did not have any right to contest election to the Rajya Sabha in terms of the law made by the Parliament.
The Court stated while dismissing the SLP that the Representation of People Act, 1950 read with the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 has contemplated the name of a candidate to be proposed while filling the nomination form. However, it cannot be claimed by an individual that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as to file his nomination without any proposer as is required under the Act.
Post-conviction compounding of offences is permissible: Himachal Pradesh High Court
The Himachal Pradesh High Court in the case Shri Kantu Ram v Shri Beer Singh recently observed that a court, while exercising powers under Section 147 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and can proceed to compound the offences even after recording of conviction by the courts below.
The bench comprising of Justice Sandeep Sharma observed in a case where the revision Petitioner, who was convicted under Section 138 of the NI Act by the Magistrate Court and was aggrieved by subsequent dismissal of appeal by the Sessions Court and had agreed to pay the amount due and settle the matter.
Thus, the petitioner had sought compounding of offences.
In the present case, the respondent admitted the factum with regard to receipt of the amount due from the accused and expressed that the prayer made on behalf of accused for compounding of offence can be accepted.
However, the High Court allowed the prayer and the offence committed by the Petitioner under Section 138 NI Act was ordered to be compounded.
The Court observed that the Reliance was placed on Damodar S. Prabhu V. Sayed Babalal H. (2010) 5 SCC 663, wherein the Apex Court has categorically held that court, while exercising power under Section 147 of the NI Act and can proceed to compound the offence even after recording of the conviction by the courts below.
‘Pensionary benefits to employee, who is removed from service for misconduct, is not at par with those who retire on superannuation’
The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court in the case Bashir Ahmad Wani v Jammu and Kashmir Grameen Bank and Another recently observed and stated that an employee who is removed from service for misconduct is not at par with those who is being retired on superannuation.
The bench comprising of Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed while dismissing the pension claim made by a former employee of the J&K Grameen Bank, who was removed from service in 2011.
In the present case, the petitioner had sought benefit of the J&K Grameen Bank (Employees) Pension Regulations, 2018 whereby provision was made for terminal benefits.
However, the court disallowed the claims on two grounds:
Firstly, that at the time of removal of the petitioner from service when there were no norms, rules or regulations providing for the benefit of pension to the employees of the respondent-Bank.
In the year 2011, the employees of the respondent-Bank were governed by the J&K Grameen Bank ( the Officers and Employees) Service Regulations, 2010… it is abundantly clear that it does not prescribe imposition of a penalty of removal along with the pensionary benefits.
Secondly, it was opined by the court that though the 2018 Regulations had been made applicable to those employees who were in service between 1st day of September, 1987 and 31st day of March, 2010 and the employees retired from the services of the Bank before 31st day of March, 2018, however, this leeway cannot come to aid of the Petitioner.
The Curt observed that the reason for finding that the Petitioner was not an employee who had “retired” on superannuation from the bank. Rather, he was “removed” for misconduct.
The Court stated that the regulations apply to those employees who retired from the service of the Bank before 31.03.2018 and not the employees who were terminated for misconduct. Viewed thus, the order of removal of the petitioner dated 02.09.2011 holding the petitioner entitled to terminable benefits and cannot, by any stretch of reasoning, be construed to be an order of removal with the benefit of the pension. Neither, the petitioner, at the time of his removal from service, nor with the promulgation of Pension Regulations of 2018, is entitled to the benefit of pension.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition.
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