[Editorial Analysis] The contractual functionary

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Contractual job and its impact on sanitation work


• Sewage pipes and drains represent the bleaker side of India’s struggle to modernise its cities.

• It was the National Disaster Response Force that found his body after an eight-hour search.

• Reports of deaths in similar circumstances appear regularly in the local press in different cities. They attract public attention for a day or two, but fail to sustain it.

Caste and contract work

• Reports identified Kishan Lal as a ‘contract worker’.

• The meaning of this term has grown and the scope of its use has greatly expanded over recent decades.

• Depending on who your contractor is, you could have a vastly different experience of work under a contract.

• There was a time when the term was used only in the context of private sector employment because the government alone gave ‘permanent’ appointments. Economic reforms introduced under liberalisation changed that.

Factors affecting sanitation job to became contractual

• In the case of sanitation, contract work means gross vulnerability and exploitation.

• The terms of contract are minimalist, and a contractor feels free to enhance his own share of the contract with impunity, by nibbling away the worker’s share.

• Though the government is supposed to regulate the functioning of this contract, it does not show much active interest in doing so.

• It has been following the general policy of privatisation as a matter of faith, without putting in the effort it takes to work out the details for different sectors and departments.

• The realisation that one solution does not solve every problem is absent.

• Such a realisation is also unpopular, especially among people who present themselves as the gurus of efficiency.

• Decline in efficiency and quality of different services is quite apparent to the public, but it is flatly denied by political leaders, civil servants and consultants.

Quality takes a hit

• They also deny the urgency of reviewing the working of the contractual system in areas directly related to welfare, such as sanitation, health and education.

• Little attempt has been made to study how contractual work has affected reliability in the postal services, railways and accounts.

• Even in functions such as data gathering, which are crucial for economic planning and decisions, the contractual workforce has proved detrimental to quality.

• In many spheres, contractual appointments do not involve a private contractor, but that makes little difference to the quality of work done.

• In education, for instance, many State governments have been hiring teachers on contract.

• Their service conditions are totally different from those serving as permanent staff, yet they are expected to deliver higher quality in teaching.

• The mantra upholding this expectation is that contractual teachers will work harder because they are insecure.

• In State after State, this mantra has not borne fruit, but no one wants to acknowledge that.

• Nor do governments want to admit that contractual work in professions such as teaching discourages motivation to improve one’s performance.

• The reason is that contractual functionaries see no definite prospect of a career or future in the same profession.

• Also, their wage is much too small to sustain the growth of substantial professional commitment.

• The case of sanitation workers on contract is worse.
• They work for small-time contractors who have absolutely no idea of the role of a sanitation worker.

• The contractor feels free to exploit the worker, conveniently hopping over whatever barriers and checks, including digital devices, that the government attempts to use for providing financial security to the worker.

Way forward

• The government in the case of sanitation, it is often the municipality shows little sustained interest in imposing stringent norms for provision of equipment, including those for safety, necessary for sewer cleaning.

• As for training, no one seems to believe that sanitation involves complex work, requiring both knowledge and training.

• Such a thought is fully precluded by the strong and enduring bond that exists between caste and sanitation.

• Sanitation campaigns do not articulate an acknowledgement of the relationship between the caste system and cleaning jobs.

• An ideological barrier prevents such articulation.
• The media too does not highlight the connection between caste and cleaning.
• That is why whenever sanitation workers die in underground drains, the news simply passes into unsorted history.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements related to Inter-corporate Deposits:

1. An Inter-Corporate Deposit (ICD) is an unsecured borrowing by corporates from other corporate entities registered under the Companies Act.

2. The interest rate on Inter-Corporate Deposit (ICD) is
fixed by the RBI.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) To what extent the sanitation workers represent a wider phenomenon of exploitative contractual work. Comment.

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