The controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), which was completed in India’s border state of Assam last month, continues to spring surprises. Now, a large software conglomerate has been dragged to court by a government department for flouting a vital norm while executing the project.
The Labor Commissionerate of the Assam government has slapped a lawsuit against Wipro for not obtaining the mandatory contract labor license for the NRC project, which it had implemented in association with a local firm.
The petition, which has been lodged at the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Guwahati, alleges that Wipro Limited has violated the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970, which applies all over India.
The law is applicable to every establishment in which twenty or more workmen are employed on any day of the preceding twelve months as contract labor and every contractor who employs or who is employed on any day of the preceding twelve months.
The NRC project in Assam has been the subject of controversy since the process was initiated late in 2014. It is only in Assam that a list of citizens has been compiled among all the states in India following an accord between the government and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 2005. The Supreme Court also intervened and directed the government to update the register after a petition was filed by Assam Public Works four years after the accord was inked.
However, apart from Wipro, there was no other firm to make a bid for the project on system integration when tenders were floated in 2014. The NRC Secretariat had no option but to allot the contract to the software firm in spite of tenders being announced for a second time. After Wipro bagged the contract, the firm leased out the recruitment of 7,000 data entry operators and payment of their salaries to a Guwahati-based firm named Integrated Systems and Services (ISS).
Labor commissioner Narayan Konwar has confirmed the legal proceeding against Wipro in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Guwahati and added that an investigation has also been launched by his office on a complaint by data entry operators engaged with the NRC.
The Labor Commissionerate was alerted when it was approached by a group of eight data entry operators from different regions of the state led by Abdul Rashid with a complaint on September 8, 2017. Their statement alleged that each operator was being paid only 5,050 rupees ($71) every month against the sum of 14,500 ($205) rupees earmarked by the government. Subsequently, a case was registered by the commissionerate and their statements would soon be recorded.
When asked for a comment on these two episodes, senior manager of Wipro in charge of corporate communication Purnima Barman said, “Wipro does not comment on pending litigation. Separately, we do not comment on specific client engagements.”
The NRC project has been implemented by the Registrar General of India (RGI), which is under the administrative control of the central home ministry. The expenditure of the exercise has been borne by the ministry.
Senior employees at Integrated Systems & Services were unequivocal in asserting that the release of funds from the ministry has been “irregular” for data entry operators all over Assam. They said that salaries were paid to them immediately after funds were disbursed from the NRC Secretariat.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India.