SRA’s bio-metric survey violating ‘Right to Privacy’

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SRA’s bio-metric survey data can be misused against the slum dwellers

According to newspapers, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority in Mumbai is carrying out a biometric survey in slums so as to identify the people eligible for rehabilitation. The SRA adopts a model in which the slum residents are re-housed in a multistory building built at the site of their slum and using the remaining land for constructing apartments to be sold in open market. This whole rehabilitation scheme is carried out a private developer while the SRA act merely as a facilitator. GBGBA has always opposed this model as the government in the garb of slum rehabilitation selling public land to the private builder whereas on the other the benefit of rehabilitation is given to the only limited number of slum dwellers of a particular slum by putting the criterion of eligibility. There are other issues also which the rehabilitated slum dwellers face after getting rehabilitated through this model. We will discuss all that sometime soon.

Survey campaign is collecting the personal information of the slum residents including their thumb impressions. Despite various attempts to seek clarity on the purpose of the survey and the questionable techniques being used in the survey, no satisfactory response has been received so far. Appalled by the hasty manner in which the Survey is being imposed on the residents, the residents of Ambujwadi-an old slum settlement where GBGBA is active- have submitted a signed petition to the Chief Minister Devendra Fadanawis asking the clarity on the purpose of conducting the biometric survey in the slum areas of Mumbai. They also requested him to stop the survey campaign until they get written the clarification on the purpose of conducting the survey.

Deputy-Collector, Malad has served notice in different sectors of Ambujwadi, that this biometric survey is being done according to the Maharashtra Government resolution (GR) 1st May 2015 and 1 May 2018. The authorities says that this survey would help to identify the eligible slum dwellers for rehabilitation.[2] However, there is no mention of ‘biometric’ survey or any kind of survey in any of the above GRs.  Also, according to those slum dwellers whose survey has been conducted already, there are no fields in the devices used by the surveyors to collect information about the documents necessary for deciding one’s eligibility for the rehabilitation.

Residents of Ambujwadi became more doubtful about the intentions behind the survey when they found out that the surveyors are also surveying those families already proved eligible for the resettlement under 1995 and 2000 cut-off-date. “When we are already proven eligible for the resettlement then what is the need to check our eligibility again and again”, said Akhilesh Rao, one of the slum dwellers from Ambujwadi. “It is important for us to know the purpose of the Biometric Survey because our personal information is being taken from us during the survey and no one has told us what the government is going to do with this information and what is the security of all the personal information the government is collecting from us .” he further said.

Sub-Collector Malad also says that in the Maharashtra government resolution of May 16, 2018, the cut off date has been extended from 1.1.2000 to 1.1.2011. The eligible people between 1.1.2000 and 1.1.2011 will get the benefit of the rehabilitation by paying money, but there is no clarity on the amount of money that will be required to pay.

During the survey they takes thumb impression and video recording of the space inside and outside the hutments, scans the documents of that hutments and take video recording of the statement forcefully taken from the slum dwellers asking them to say that they are providing true information and are ready to face legal action if wrong information is provided by them. Also, surveyor takes the photo of the person in front of her hutment.

SRA officials claim that this survey began after receiving the permission from the concerned authority. But when activists from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan reached them to ask who the concerned authority is, even CEO of SRA was not ready to take the responsibility.

The private agency called Mahaonline and concerned Deputy Collector are appointed to conduct the survey of the slum dwellers.[3] The survey team numbers every door of hutment of the slums by painting it, and conducts a biometric survey of each family member. SRA says that the biometric survey data will be made online and the citizens can use the special ID given to them after the survey to check the progress of rehabilitation of that particular area.[4] But after conducting the survey slum dwellers are not given an ID or any other proof that their information is recorded. They get just one text-message on their mobile phone, which includes only house number and measurement of the area of that hutment, that message does not include name, photograph or any ID number of the related person. Currently, the data of the survey is only available for SRA officials. There is no clarity on the questions like where they are storing this data? Why they are taking thumb impression? They are also forcing people to provide ADHAAR card number when the Supreme Court in its order clearly mentions that ADHAAR card is not mandatory for getting benefits of any governmental scheme.

The survey team of SRA which goes on the ground often face serious opposition from the slum dwellers as slum dwellers feels that this survey is being conducted without providing any appropriate reason behind it, they are not getting any assurance that their information will be secure or will not be sold, this data can be misused to extricate slum dwellers from that land as the Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping is used to know to which competent authority does the land belong to. Slum dwellers claim that despite their efforts to know the purpose of this survey, neither the SRA officials nor the Deputy Collector Malad has made it clear. There is no authenticate the source of information about this survey that can be accessible to the common public.

Population living in the slum areas is mostly illiterate, they barely have an idea about biometric technology. No court has addressed whether law enforcement can collect biometric data without a person’s knowledge and biometric identifiers could also be stolen. This shows that there are high chances of misuse of this data of the slum dwellers.  Taking this into the consideration slum dwellers organised under Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan submitted a complaint against the SRA to the Chief Minister.

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