Karnataka Janaaroyga Chaluvali condemns serious violations of labor laws by the contracting field agency Vimarsh leading to deaths and disabilities among field researchers under NFHS -4

From: Karnataka Janaaroyga Chaluvali Secretariat <kjc.secretariat@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 8:41 PM
Subject: Serious violations of labor laws by the contracting field agency Vimarsh leading to deaths and disabilities among field researchers under NFHS -4
To: Director Office <director@iips.net>

4th September 2015

Director

Indian Institute of Population Sciences

Mumbai

Subject: Serious violations of labor laws by the contracting field agency Vimarsh leading to deaths and disabilities among field researchers in Karnataka under NFHS -4

Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali (KJC) is a people’s struggle for health rights, dignity and well-being of all citizens, with a focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities.  KJC is comprised of informal workers’ unions such as construction workers, domestic workers, rural agricultural workers, representatives of urban deprived communities, safai karmacharis, dalit movements, child rights groups, progressive women’s groups, public health researchers, filmmakers and academicians. Among various other actions, KJC keeps a close vigil on both the public health system as well as the private health sector to raise issues of health care denials, discrimination, negligence and other such violations and ensure justice and remedial actions from district, state and central administrations.

There have been deaths and disabilities among field researchers hired on contract by Vimarsh, the field agency contracted to undertake the NFHS4 survey in Karnataka. These deaths, which could have been totally averted, were a result of willful violations of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines by Vimarsh and placing undue pressure on the field researchers and driving them to be ‘cost-effective’ and ‘efficient’ where field researchers’ safety and life itself has been a casualty. Therefore Vimarsh is guilty of deliberately causing the deaths of three field researchers and causing grievous injuries to two others. Till date Vimarsh has neither compensated the families of researchers who died nor has it paid for treatment of those who suffered grievous injuries.

These deaths and injuries are not a stand-alone event but a culmination of several labor violations by Vimarsh including not providing safe and secure arrangements for accommodation, not providing medical insurance during the course of the survey, withholding a part of their salaries, irregular payment of salaries and completely withholding stipend during the training period, which is in complete violation of the MoHFW tender document that Vimarsh has signed.

Given that agencies such as Vimarsh view this as ‘business’ it is not surprising that they have used such illegal and underhand means to maximize their ‘profit’. Vimarsh has also demonstrated its coercive intimidatory tactics by confiscating the field researchers’ original marksheets, not issuing signed contacts to the field researchers and putting the onus of equipment maintenance solely on the field researchers which are grossly manipulative and coercive.

Field researchers have tried to draw the attention of the IIPS as the nodal agency to these violations in Karnataka, as early as December 2014. However the IIPS has turned a blind eye. We demand to know why the IIPS did not take any cognizance of these violations. By ignoring the pleas of field researchers the IIPS has been party to their exploitation and the fatal consequences that followed.

There have been no proper systems of monitoring by IIPS. In spite of receiving complaints about Vimarsh on several occasions, IIPS did not take action. Furthermore, those researchers and trainers who have complained about the exploitative practices of this private agency, have been tyrannized and slapped with defamation suits. In spite of this unconstitutional behavior by Vimarsh, both IIPS and MoHFW have maintained a surprising silence. This displays the inherent flaw within the process of contracting out of government services where no one is accountable to anyone even in the face of large scale violations.

The NFHS4 does not include even a single PRC, which are premier government institutions that have ably anchored the previous rounds of NFHS. We demand to know why the PRCs were not appointed as field agencies and why ‘contracts’ were awarded to criminal elements such as Vimarsh who stop at nothing to further their ‘profits’. This is a clear illustration of how the contracting system is corrupting the NFHS process, bringing in unethical, exploitative processes, jeopardizing lives in addition to making quality of NFHS data highly suspect.

In view of these serious violations in the NFHS4 process by the field agency Vimarsh, we demand that you undertake the following actions immediately:

  1. Issue a public statement about the violations by Vimarsh and blacklist them from any future government projects even if they register under a different name.
  1. 2. Direct Vimarsh to pay all pending arrears of all the researchers and trainers, including for the training period.
  1. Direct Vimarsh to pay compensation of Rs.50 lakh each to the families of the deceased and to those who suffered grievous injuries.
  1. Appoint Population Research Centre, Dharwad as the Field Agency for undertaking NFHS4 in Karnataka

We urge you to undertake the actions demanded so that the lives of field researchers are not further jeopardized and the integrity and legitimacy of the NFHS as an ethical and good quality survey is not further tarnished.

We look forward to hearing from you on what actions you have initiated in the light of these violations.

On behalf of Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali,

Akhila Vasan

Vijayakumar S.

KB Obalesh

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