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Why teachers, workers and trade unions protesting against use of biometric timekeeping system

Written By BiharWatch on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 | 1:44 AM

Unmindful of the political resistance against biometric attendance and biometric timekeeping in UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA and in several regions and sectors in India, mainstream political parties including those of socialist persuasion have maintained silence. They have feigned ignorance about protests against the implementation of biometric attendance system i.e. an attendance system. There has been protest against biometric attendance in Durgapur Steel Plant, Steel Authority of India Ltd. The management introduced the Biometric Attendance Recording System with disciplinary actions. Hindustan Steel Workers Union, Durgapur Steel Plant protested against “illegal and illegitimate capturing of fingerprints  of employees and implementation of “Biometric Attendance Recording System” without any lawful authority and in violation of Article-21 of the Constitution of India and other related statutes.”[i] 

(Photo: Letter of Hindustan Steel Workers Union, Durgapur Steel Plant to CEO of Durgapur Steel Plant)

The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and Delhi University College Karamchari Union (DUCKU) also protested against the installation and implementation of Bio Metric Attendance system. All schools, colleges, universities and research centres under State Governments and Central Government have introduced and are introducing the procedure of Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Biometric Attendance Recording System and CCTV system for students, teachers and non-teaching employees. It is mandatory in both private and public institutions. The capturing of fingerprints and iris scan and CCTV is illegal and illegitimate. There has been demands for their stoppage of such initiatives which seem to pave the way for genetic determinism and legitimization of eugenic thinking.[ii] Meanwhile, the students and teachers and non-teaching staff are being coerced to enrol for UID/Aadhaar.

 UID/Aadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AEBAS) has been designed for government organizations by the Government of India to improve the productivity of employees. The system authenticates attendance using Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number created by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It is a cloud based building automation system (BAS) that monitors attendance of government employees in real-time. It is claimed that UID/Aadhaar based attendance system provide employees with the option of easy attendance marking, without having to manually enter their UID/Aadhaar number. It is also claimed that it is “designed for long term, uninterrupted performance with prudent blend of aesthetics, speed, connectivity, convenience and reliability” amidst numerous uninterrupted reports of unreliability of UID/Aadhaar including academic studies pointing out the ugliness and cruelty of starvation deaths due to denial of subsidies, benefits and services.

The proponents of biometric time and attendance system claim that it has brought more precise system to measure group or individual’s activities and attendance. The biometric attendance machine works by capturing unique biological features of individuals such as hand or finger print, iris pattern, voice or DNA as a record for identity verification and allows individuals to perform something that which individuals are obligated or authorized to do. It counts employees’ work schedule, like which employee did what, and at what time did she/he do it. It is claimed that it is a fool proof technology that ensures the accuracy of attendance and dealings with large number of employees.

The claims of interested parties and corporate beneficiaries and proponents is not surprising but the meek submission of most trade unions and opposition parties is intriguing. The lesson from the rebellion of U.K.’s trade against biometric employee scanning is yet to be learnt in India.[iii] U.K. trade union rebels against biometric employee scanning and tracking. It is significant that a major trade union in Australia opposed plans by the government’s welfare body to start using voice biometrics in contact centres.[iv] Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) resisted the introduction of biometric call monitoring and performance management software into frontline client service. The proposed monitoring included voice biometrics recording that tracks the way staff and customers talk. It is germane to note that Australia has abandoned its UID/Aadhaar like National ID project.

In USA, the initiative of collecting biometric data of employees has brought forth the issue of its propriety and its conflict with labour rights and legal provisions.[v] This has created a compulsion for the contractors to bargain with trade unions when it is clear the biometric system is likely to subject employees to additional discipline or increased oversight. The employers are generally not permitted to implement biometric system unless union representatives agree to its use. Some states have framed legal protections for employees with respect to the use of bio­metric technology. New York prohibits employers from requiring employees to be fingerprinted as a condition of employment. Some states have placed conditions on a private or commercial entity’s collection and use of biometric information, based on informed consent. They provide guidance on storage and destruction of such collected data. There is a legal requirement that imposes duty on the data collector to provide notice to individuals whenever security breach occurs. West Virginia federal court found that religious views of an employee conflicted with an employer’s use of biometric technology and ruled that he was entitled to a religious accommodation under federal anti-discrimination law.

In New Zealand, the Employment Court has adjudicated on this issue in OCS Limited v Food Workers Union Nga RingaTota Inc & Anor WN WC 15/06 on 31st August, 2006 and directed that employers will need to consult with employees and obtain their consent before introducing the system of collection of biometric data and the technology needs to be compatible with the contractual obligations of the parties.The employer must take reasonable steps to inform employees of the new measures and to obtain their consent.[vi]

In India, the Khan Mazdoor Karmachari Union (IFTU-Sarwahara) (Mine Workers Employee Union (IFTU-Sarwahara)) protested against this system installed by the management in the Jhanjhra, a fully mechanised mine of Eastern Coalfields Ltd, situated in Raniganj, district Burdwan in West Bengal. 

Their pamphlet titled Bio-Metric Attendance: An attempt to enslave the workers reads:

Despite severe protest by the workers and unions, the Jhanjhra Area Management is implementing an anti-worker biometric attendance system i.e. an attendance system by way of biometric scanning of eyes and the whole face. Apart from this biometric attendance system, there is also a hurried move to install CCTV inside the mines and offices and thereafter, provide the workers GPRS-enabled caps so that the management can keep the workers and employees under continuous strict surveillance…Let’s see why it is necessary for the workers to oppose the biometric attendance and CCTV installation.
First, via this system of attendance, the biometric machine will scan our faces and eyes and keep them online on computer/internet. This fact in itself is illegal, dangerous and worth pondering. Why? Firstly, because the scanned photograph can be, intentionally or unintentionally, misused by any agency (the one that will be privy or have access to the data.). For instance, if any terrorist organization gains access to this data, then it can be used with catastrophic repercussion. We would like to raise the question: in such an eventuality, who will be responsible? The situation accentuates in case of female workers and employees.
It will cast severe question mark on their integrity and respect. Keeping these things in mind only, in a similar instance i.e. Aadhaar Card (Unique Identification System) the Supreme Court gave a verdict, in which, it categorically said that forcibly implementing the biometric identification infringes on the fundamental right of privacy. It is a well-established covenant world over that without permission no one, not even the Government, can keep physical identification of a person. The constitution of India, as is well known, prohibits any agency/ management/ institution, whatsoever it may be, from keeping such data as physical identification of a person under its control and access without one’s due permission
Second, we do not know, nor the management has informed us on the radiations emitted by the scanning machine, but, on the other hand, the workers will have to undergo scanning of their faces and eyes twice a day. Who knows what will be the impact of it on our eyes and faces! Whether management has undertaken concrete scientific investigation about it, we do not know this, too. We demand to know who will be responsible for the possible long term deadly after-effects of the Scanning Machine’s radiation.
Third, how it will have impact on the extra time involved for the attendance of the worker.
Let’s assume that there are 100 workers standing in front of the machine to punch-in their attendance, if one worker takes minimum of 30 seconds (though in reality it may take much more), then for the last worker it will take extra 50 minutes to punch-in his/her attendance. That means he/she will have to leave for the work 50 minutes before the schedule. Same will be the case for punch-out. Who will be responsible for this wastage of time and who will compensate for this loss?
Fourth, the confidence of workers is vital. In case of the machine malfunctioning or it being out of order, or if it fails to record attendance even after saying “thank you” i.e. in case of false recording of attendance, and hence in case of attendance dispute arising there from, what proof will the worker have in his possession to claim that he was present?
Fifth, similarly what will happen for driller, dresser, explosive carrier and short firer? As is evident from the design of things appearing through biometric, pressure on them to enhance workload is bound to increase.
Sixth, as is becoming as clear as day light from the above facts, it is ludicrous as to why the management is wasting at all a fortune as big as thousands of lakhs or crores of rupees on installing the biometric system. It has been clarified above that there is no worth, as is being claimed over board by the management, in installing this machine; on the contrary, it is anti-workers, dangerous and one that will fuel unnecessary debate and unrest. Actually the main intention of the ECL managements is to have total control over the life of workers that is simply excessive and unnecessary.
Seventh, one of the arguments given by management is that it will increase production. The motive of installing CCTV inside the mines and offices, too, has to be seen in this light. In reality, the intention of the management is to increase the production by way of excessively pressurising the workers. The truth, however, is that precondition of increasing production is that workers must have a joyful family life. It is vital that the worker gets the necessary 8 hours of leisure, their homes are clean and healthy, they get proper transport and there are such safety measures as are necessary to make the mines safe for the workers. But the management seldom thinks of bringing these qualitative changes in. The management has not been able to even provide clean drinking water to the homes of the workers. Electricity supply is simply pathetic and the workers quarters are such that one cannot even use gas cylinder. The state of cleanliness of their colonies is an open secret. Under such inhuman conditions, how can workers increase production?

While those who have accepted admittedly “inherently fallible” biometric technology based UID/Aadhaar as a fait accompli remains occupied with the differences that arise between the contractor and the individuals whose sensitive information is being collected with regard to the requirements for consent, the length of time biometric information may be stored and protocols for its destruction, those who are convinced about its unscientific nature contend that linking of biometric UID/Aadhaar number to all services including biometric timekeeping is designed to cause civil death.[vii] Civil death is the loss of all or almost all civil rights by a person, caused by the government of a country. Now it is apparent that the denial of rights in the absence of UID/Aadhaar is an act of coercion wherein people are being compelled to share their personal, sensitive biological information; else they will face civil death.

Gopal Krishna 

The author a law and public policy researcher, and editor of www.toxicswatch.org. He had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance which examined the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010  

[i] Krishna, Gopal (2014). Protest Against Biometric Attendance System, https://www.moneylife.in/article/protest-against-biometric-attendance-system/39773.html, 09 December
[ii] Written Testimony before People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions in India, 13 April 2018, https://kractivist.org/testimony-of-citizens-forum-for-civil-liberties-cfcl-against-aadhaar-and-cctv-surveillance-in-educational-campuses/
[iii] Osborne, Charlie (2013). U.K. trade union rebels against biometric employee scanning, September 17, https://www.zdnet.com/article/uk-trade-union-rebels-against-biometric-employee-scanning/
[iv] (2015). Australian trade union slams voice biometrics plan, 19 March, https://www.planetbiometrics.com/article-details/i/2832/
[v] M. Gallagher, Claire (2017). Is It OK To Fingerprint Your Employees?, May 3,
[vi] Drake, Anthony (2018). New Zealand: Is it OK to collect biometric data from workers?, 21 March, http://www.mondaq.com/NewZealand/x/684766/employee+rights+labour+relations/Is+it+OK+to+collect+biometric+data+from+workers
[vii] Krishna, Gopal (2017) Will Aadhaar Cause Death of Civil Rights?, March 23, https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/will-aadhaar-cause-death-of-civil-rights/story/248331.html

Preliminary comments on "Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management& Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019

Written By BiharWatch on Monday, June 03, 2019 | 11:32 PM

  • The Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019 is legally flawed and suffers from poverty of imagination for environmental protection because total prohibition on import into the country is is confined only to "Solid plastic waste". The pre-existing Section 2 (2) of the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 had exempted "export oriented units or units in special economic zones,notified by the Central Government, manufacturing their products against an order for export". In a limited way it gives an impression that it rectifies the error which was introduced through Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 by diluting the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 under the influence foreign and Indian plastic wastetraders. It does not address the ongoing Transboundary Movement of hazardous waste within the territory of India. The fact remains even this amendment should have been done in the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018. These amendments required wider public publication before its notification. 
  • The reference to "Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016" is noteworthy because these Rules define “import”, which means "bringing into India from a place outside India" and “importer” which means "an occupier or any person who imports hazardous and other waste". As per this Rules, “transboundary movement” means any movement of hazardous or other wastes form an area under the jurisdiction of one country to or through an area under the jurisdiction of another country or to or through an area not under the jurisdiction of any country, provided that at least two countries are involved in the movement. It reveals that "transboundary movement" of hazardous has become part of ministry's sound environmental management approach. This term was introduced in 2008 apparently under the influence of hazardous waste traders when the pre-existing Hazardous WasteRules were amended. This term has been lifted from UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. 
  • It is contrary to the UN's Basel Convention which aims “to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of quantity and hazardousness; to dispose of them as close to the source of generation as possible; to reduce the transboundry movement of hazardous wastes.” It is quite evident that the new Rules are contrary to the objective of the UN Convention to which India is a party.  Basel Convention was made part of its order by Supreme Court of India due to alarming situation created by dumping of hazardous waste, its generation and serious and irreversible damage, as a result thereof, to the environment, flora and fauna, health of animals and human beings. The Court took cognizance of violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.  
  • Chapter III of the Rules deals with "import and export of hazardous and other wastes". Clause 11 of the 2016 Rules provides that "The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change shall be the nodal Ministry to deal with the transboundary movement of the hazardous wastes in accordance with the provisions of these rules." Clause 12 (2) reads: "The import of hazardous and other wastes form any country shall be permitted only for the recycling or recovery or reuse." Such permission for import of hazardous waste for "recycling or recovery or reuse" is an attempt to define waste as non-waste. This is an act designed to re-define end-of-life product as non-waste. It is akin to defining waste as non-new good.  It is an exercise in linguistic corruption. This has apparently been done to pander to the interests of international and national hazardous waste traders. Clause 13 (1) reads:  The import and export of the hazardous and other wastes specified in Schedule III, shall be regulated in accordance with the conditions laid down in the said Schedule.  
  • Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019 reveals that trade in hazardous waste is happening in a business as usual manner.   
  • The inclusion of the provision of "importing back" defective "Electrical and electronic assemblies and components manufactured in and exported from India, if found defective" within a year of export seems to be happening under the influence foreign companies and countries. In the absence of robust regulatory mechanism in this regard, this provision can be exploited by unscrupulous traders in electrical and electronic assemblies and components. CAG must audit its implementation at the earliest opportunity. 
  • This provision of Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019 must be read with the circular of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) dated November 2, 2018 sent to all State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) on the subject of "Directions Under Section 18(1)(B) of The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 And The Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 Regarding Streamlining Of Consent Mechanism". 
  • This provision about exemption from requirement of consent and authorization also under the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 will be deeply detrimental to the cause of environmental protection and compliance with the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016. Given the fact that under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, it is for  the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) of Union Territories which give consent and authorisation under these two Acts, the provision stating that  "environmental surveillance of industries should be on random basis, and SPCBs/PCCs shall evolve mechanism for that" instead of 24X7 environmental surveillance on a regular basis paves the way for very serious disruption of existing regulatory mechanisms. 
  • Such directions have already been implemented in some States who have exempted over 100 categories of industries from Hazardous and Other Wastes(Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 without waiting for the 2019 Rules to be notified. This is fraught with unprecedented adverse consequences for environmental health and related disease burden. Such disruption is totally unacceptable. 
  • The condition of handing over "hazardous and other wastes generated by such industries" to "authorized actual users, waste collectors or disposal facilities" for availing these exemptions does not inspire even an iota of confidence because "disposal facilities" for hazardous wastes are almost non-existent and hazardous "waste collectors" are simply dumping or incinerating them making environmental problems more complex by making the contaminants invisible.

Gopal Krishna

Press Information Bureau
Government of India

Amendment in Hazardous Waste (Management& Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016

Dated: 06th March 2019
New Delhi

In order to strengthen the implementation of environmentally sound management of hazardous waste in the country, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has amended the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 vide notification G.S.R.  G.S.R. XX (E), dated 01 March 2019.

The amendment has been done keeping into consideration the “Ease of Doing Business” and boosting “Make in India” initiative by simplifying the procedures under the Rules, while at the same time upholding the principles of sustainable development and ensuring minimal impact on the environment.

Some of the salient features of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management& Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019 are as follows:

      1.      Solid plastic waste has been prohibited from import into the country including in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and by Export Oriented Units (EOU).
      2.      Exporters of silk waste have now been given exemption from requiring permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
      3.      Electrical and electronic assemblies and components manufactured in and exported from India, if found defective can now be imported back into the country, within a year of export, without obtaining permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
      4.      Industries which do not require consent under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, are now exempted from requiring authorization also under the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, provided that hazardous and other wastes generated by such industries are handed over to the authorized actual users, waste collectors or disposal facilities.

Ganga river basin aporoach and the fast of Sant Atmabodhananda

Written By BiharWatch on Sunday, May 05, 2019 | 10:41 AM

Notably, NMCG was registered as a society on 12th August 2011 under the Societies Registration Act 1860. It used to act as the implementation arm of National Ganga River Basin Authority(NGRBA) which was constituted under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), 1986 during the tenure of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Modi government dissolved  NGRBA with effect from 7th October 2016 and constituted National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection and Management of River Ganga (National Ganga Council) vide notification no. S.O. 3187 (E) dt. 7th October 2016 under EPA 1986.

It envisages five tier structure at national, state and district level to take measures for prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga and to ensure continuous adequate flow of water so as to rejuvenate the river Ganga. 
The structure is as under 
1. National Ganga Council under chairmanship of Prime Minister of India
2. Empowered Task Force (ETF) on river Ganga under chairmanship of Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
3. National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG)
4. State Ganga Committees and 
5. District Ganga Committees in every specified district abutting river Ganga and its tributaries in the states
NMCG has a two tier management structure and comprises of Governing Council and Executive Committee. Both of them are headed by Director General, NMCG. Executive Committee has been authorized to accord approval for all projects up to Rs 1000 crore. Similar to structure at national level, State Programme Management Groups (SPMGs) acts as implementing arm of State Ganga Committees has been constituted. These institutions attempt to bring all stakeholders on one platform to take a holistic approach towards the task of Ganga cleaning and rejuvenation. 

The Director General of NMCG who met Sant Atmabodhananda on 4th May, 2019 is a Additional Secretary in Government of India. For effective implementation of the projects under the overall supervision of NMCG, the State Level Program Management Groups are headed by officials of the Ganga river States.

It is evident that Modi government abandoned the holistic Ganga river basin approach and adopted a narrow Ganga river approach as if the river is only  a pipeline of water.

What Is Ganga River Basin Approach

While the commercial benefits of damming rivers has been talked about a lot, the in-stream and off stream monetary and non-monetary benefits and advantages of flowing rivers has not been assessed so far. Does basin approach mean undertaking that assessment?

The declaration of Ganga River Basin Authority as part of Third Phase of Ganga Action Plan (GAP-III) in the aftermath of the acknowledgment by the Prime Minister's Office saying, "there is a need to replace the current piecemeal efforts taken up in a fragmented manner in select cities with an integrated approach that sees the river as an ecological entity and addresses issues of quantity in terms of water flows along with issues of quality" under Dr Manmohan Singh was long due. But that positon has been abandoned by Modi government to launch the Fourth Phase of Ganga Action Plan (GAP-IV).

Like the earlier phases of Ganga Action Plan, the fourth phase too has failed. The river basin approach affects the quality of surface water, ground water and the survival of natural flow of the rivers in the basin but it was never adopted in practice. 

The GAP-I, which was to be completed by March 1990 was extended till March, 2000 when it was declared complete but Phase I of the Plan was not yet fully complete and GAP-II which was to be completed in 2001 was extended till December 2008. This too remained incomplete.

The empty official, ceremonial and ornamental status being accorded to Ganga ahead of elections has become routine.
Even the River Basin approach applied to only 79% of Ganga basin, which is in India. It does not include 13 % of Ganga basin that is in Nepal, 4 % in Bangaldesh and 4 % in Tibet, China. It did not factor in  its relationship with the river systems and with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin.

The question as to how does Ganga river basin approach affect the policies of Industry, Power, Agriculture, Urban Development, Health and Environment by the central government, the governments of eleven states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), the neighboring countries and industry bodies like CII/FICCI/ASSOCHEM/PHCCI is yet to be addressed.

What is the relevance of Ganga River basin approach when the river channel has been amputated from the flood plains besides the amputation of the river channel itself?

The following are the biggest threats to Ganga basin basin which have beenn ignored:-
a. Interlinking of Rivers project, 
b. UP’s Ganga Expressway project, 
c. Uttarakhand’s Bhairon Ghati, Loharinag-Pala, Pala Maneri and Maneri Bhali hydro-projects
d. Some 191 heavily polluting industries in the Ganga basin states 
e. West Bengal’s Farraka Barrage
f. Bihar’s Interlinking of Rivers project or Kosi High Dam 
g. Pollution from “Religious” Activities
h. Corporate funding of political parties

Given the poor track record of the National Ganga Council like National River Conservation Directorate), it would be naïve to believe that the threats will be identified and mitigated. If the Ganga basin approach is indeed adopted then as per Comptroller Auditor General's audit reports, there is a need to strengthen the environmental clearance process emanating which has consistently been weakened. And enthusiasm about mega projects like Ganga Waterway and 'interlinking of rivers' scheme must factor in the fact that Ganga is more important than development and the ecological entity of the river basin is non-negotiable.

What can be done even under current scheme of things is to review and reverse the policies like Indian Energy Policy because they wete formulated when basin approach was not adopted. Consequently, fragmented river valley project specific clearances are given without any considered sensitivity towards the environmental health of the river ecosystem. An environmental audit of all the industrial activities in the Ganga basin is a must because auditing and accounting are inextricably interlinked, the important pre-requisite for effective environmental auditing is sound environmental accounting.

Data on environmental costs and liabilities can be used for better decision making relating to usage of alternative raw materials, consumption of utilities like water and power, choice of processing technology based on environmental cost of treating discharge into water, adverse environmental aspect and impact on flora fauna and human beings and treatment of byproducts.

In the face of limitations encountered by National Water Quality Assessment Authority, one of the immediate need of the basin is to take urgent steps to restore the water quality by seeking Zero tolerance towards hazardous chemicals, waste water and depletion in the natural flow due to uncalled for hydro projects adversely affects the water quality.

Infact like previous governments, Modi government too has failed to appreciate that water quantity, water quality and land building are inherently linked. Depletion of water quantity leads to deterioration of water quality.  Embanking, diverting and damming of rivers prevents rivers to perform its natural function of land building.The entire Indo-Gangetic plains have been built by river's natural geological function. It is evident that economic planning in Ganga basin is against the water cycle-it is unscientific. Those who accept this situation in a business as usual manner are complicit in what has been termed as The Economics of Innocent Fraud.

Through their sacrifices saints like Baba Nagnath, Swami Nigmanand, Prof. G. D. Agarwal (Swami Sanand) and Sant Atmabodhanand are constantly reminding us of the Tamil proverb saying that "Sea begins in the moutains"-water cycle itself is a living entity. Such struggles and sacrifices merits the salute of not only the sons and daughters of Ganga but also of the entire humanity. As long as Ganga's Avira (unimpeded flow) is impeded such struggles must continue in myriad forms to safeguard the natural right of the river for the benefit of present and future generation of humans and non-human living species.

Gopal Krishna

The author is a co-petitioner in National Green Tribunal on the subject of environmental impact of Ganga Waterway project

Scientism, a threat to science

Written By BiharWatch on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 | 4:22 PM

One-time events on earth are outside of science
-Paul Weisz, in Elements of Biology

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible
- Albert Einstein in "Physics and Reality"

Water from rivers which goes to sea is a waste. Is it really so? Is it scientific to argue that water which goes to sea is wasted? A Tamil proverb says, “sea begins in the mountains” capturing centuries old scientific wisdom. Is this proverb and the science of water cycle which is taught in schools incompatible? Are they unscientific? Is any anthropocentric approach scientific?

In an essay titled “The Folly of Scientism” published in The New Atlantis, a journal of Technology and Society, Austin L. Hughes is Carolina Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina wrote, “A typical scientist seemed to be a person who knew one small corner of the natural world and knew it very well, better than most other human beings living and better even than most who had ever lived. But outside of their circumscribed areas of expertise, scientists would hesitate to express an authoritative opinion.” The idea of reason cannot be equated with science. Those who do so practice scientism and Hughes concludes that like all superstitions, scientism undermines the credibility of science.

Take the case of a nuclear scientist who makes repeated claims without questioning by media that water from rivers which goes to sea is a waste, can such claim be deemed scientific? Will it be deemed so if this very claim is made by a hydrologist or an engineer of any branch? In what circumstances will such claim be considered scientific? Will there ever such situation?

Are claims of benefits from nuclear energy by nuclear scientists scientific? Was the disaster in Fukushima, Japan scientific? What was unscientific about it? 
Likewise eugenics too was promoted as a science for improving the human race by controlling reproduction. As scientific discipline, eugenics is totally been discredited in the academic world. It had also found mention in the report of National Planning Committee of the Indian National Congress headed by Jawaharlal Nehru which was constituted in 1938. Nehru had championed the cause of scientific temper, dams as temples of modern India along with scientific breeding for the birth of a fit human race. In later years, he regretted creation of large dams and referred to it as diseases of gigantism.   
The case of biometrics is illustrative. Biometrics is the science and technology of measuring and statistically analyzing biological data for the purpose of people identification based on supposed uniqueness of biological data (finger print, iris scan, voice print etc).

 The studies after studies show that biometrics as science too is deeply problematic but mass media and policy makers are accepting it unquestionably. The faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that are parts of human body that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Basic scientific research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings is reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India and even elsewhere.

A report “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities” of the National Research Council, USA published on 24 September  2010 concluded that the current state of biometrics is ‘inherently fallible’. That is also one of the findings of a five-year study. This study was jointly commissioned by the CIA, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Another study titled “Experimental Evidence of a Template Aging Effect in Iris Biometrics” supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Biometrics Task Force and the Technical Support Working Group through Army contract has demolished the widely accepted fact that iris biometric systems are not subject to a template aging effect. The study provides evidence of a template aging effect. A “template aging effect” is defined as an increase in the false reject rate with increased elapsed time between the enrollment image and the verification image. The study infers, “We find that a template aging effect does exist. We also consider controlling for factors such as difference in pupil dilation between compared images and the presence of contact lenses, and how these affect template aging, and we use two different algorithms to test our data.”
A report “Biometrics: The Difference Engine: Dubious security” published by The Economist in its 1 October 2010 issue observed “Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock.”

Notwithstanding similar unforeseen consequences government’s faith in science of biometrics remains unshaken. It seems that considerations other than truth have given birth to this faith. The core question here is: there a biological material in the human body that constitutes biometric data which is immortal, ageless and permanent? They who say that it does are guilty of practicing scientism and discrediting genuine science as a discipline. In fact it is a case of display of unscientific temper by implication.

It is noteworthy that these efforts are going in a direction wherein very soon employers are likely to ask for biometric data CD or card instead of asking for conventional bio-data for giving jobs etc. It is likely to lead to discrimination and exclusion. Biometrics is being bulldozed down people’s throat as truth detection technology. In fact right to have citizens’ rights is in the process of being denied for instance, in India if citizens fail to scientifically nay biometrically prove that they are who they claim they are, notwithstanding the unreliability and admitted error rate of the technology.

There is a need for the academia especially from the sciences, Parliament, Supreme Court, state legislatures and High Courts to examine whether or not biometrics provides an established way of fixing identity of Indians as is currently being done through programs like aadhaar number as part of world’s biggest biometric database project.

Take another case. A killer mineral fiber called asbestos about which it has been conclusively established with valid scientific finality that all asbestos including white asbestos causes incurable lung cancer. But India is world’s biggest importer of white asbestos from countries like Russia. This in spite of the fact that all relevant scientific institutions of more than 55 countries including World Health Organisation have recommended that elimination of asbestos use is the only way to prevent incurable diseases like lung cancer because there is no safe and controlled use of white asbestos is possible. But scientific institutions in India like National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad concluded the contrary because they admittedly were sponsored by the asbestos industry. Doctoring scientific findings of research to meet the requirements of the sponsors of the research is an act of scientism. Indians are not immune to toxic fibers for sure but government chooses to practice scientism.

The molecules of death, called Dioxins were used under the brand name Agent Orange in the US-Vietnam war. The war veterans of both the countries are suffering from the health consequences of the war chemical. The ecosystem and food chain of Vietnam are still to recover from it. Instead of learning from it, the Indian government has proposed some 500 waste incinerators-the dioxins emitting machines- across India in peace time. The support or silence of “institutional science” when such unscientific decisions are taken constitutes scientism.

Scientists learn about how the smallest particles in the world work. This knowledge has been helpful for humanity. But the possibility of widespread and long-term harm from these particles cannot be ruled out and merit adoption of precautionary principle. In Nanomedicine, journal of nanotechnology, the potential for nano-sized particles (which are measured in billionths of a meter) to breach the blood-brain barrier, the tightly knit layers of cells that afford the brain the highest level of protection — from microorganisms, harmful molecules, etc. — in the human body and cause harm has been explored.

While some neuroscientists are purposefully engineering nanoparticles that can cross the blood-brain barrier so as to deliver medicines in a targeted and controlled way directly to diseased parts of the brain.  But the fact remains “nanoparticles designed to cross the BBB constitute a serious threat in the context of combat.” In one instance, a one-year moratorium on such research was imposed.

Scientism refers to the philosophy that treats science as the only means of acquiring knowledge. It espouses the view that only scientific claims are meaningful as if the influence of class division does not matter and as it is politically neutral. These divisions mediate scientific perceptions and practices.

Scientism  is practiced when words like ‘scientific,’ ‘scientifically,’ ‘scientific method’ and ‘scientific temper’ are used for praise, when technical jargons are used deliberately in society at large, when someone is preoccupied with drawing a sharp line between genuine science, the real thing and pseudo-science. It is also practiced with the obsession about explaining the success of science, when answers are sought for questions beyond the scope of sciences and when any inquiry besides the scientific inquiry is denigrated.

Scientism is not only about science it is also about junk science, made to order science and institutional science. The claim about river water going to sea being wasted will certainly fall under of these categories.
Will science ever cover the entire gamut of truth in its domain? Is science the only means of answering questions? Can science itself be deemed truth? Those who claim that it can be deemed so, face the charge of practicing scientism. The fact is that “the reach of scientism exceeds its grasp.”

If an opinion poll shows that a large majority of scientists prefer a particular kind of colour in their bed room, can such preference be deemed “scientific”.

Within all disciplines of science itself, many working scientists know that certain theories of their discipline are either false or absurd. In such a situation all that is within science as a discipline can be deemed scientifically defensible. The history of science shows how certain theories were discarded for good.

Long back DD Kosambi, the noted mathematician and scientists held that science is also history of science because the cumulative nature of science is seen in the fact that every major discovery in science is absorbed into the body of human scientific knowledge, which gets used later on. What is essential is absorbed into the general body of human knowledge, to become technique.  He referred to the freedom of the scientists to undertake research he likes. In a 1952 essay Kosambi wrote, “In 1949, I saw that American scientists and intellectuals were greatly worried about the question of scientific freedom, meaning thereby freedom for the scientist to do what he liked while being paid by big business, war departments, or universities whose funds tended to come more and more from one or the other source. These gentlemen, living in a society where he who pays the piper insists upon calling the tune, did not seem to realize that science was no longer 'independent' as in the days when modern manufacturing production was still expanding…The scientist now is part of a far more closely integrated, tightly exploited, social system…” The political economy of science which was described then remains unchanged in the 21st century.
Science has influenced society, just as society has influenced science. Science is directed at finding patterns of order in the observed data. There is a reciprocal relationship between the two.  Science has altered economic, social and political beliefs and practices. Since its inception, influence of class divisions permeated science both materially and ideologically.

This has affected its structure, development and use. Science is generally kept away from the service of mankind as long as it serves a class interest. It is made available to the people at large only when it benefits this class.

The core issue is how much of science is used for betterment of human conditions and how much of it is directed at destruction of living species and the planetary resources with an ever expanding weapons industry under a military mining industrial big data complex.

As has been the case in the past the path science is taking is being guided by the interest of the dominant class which has externalized human cost and issues of inter-generational ad inter-species equity.

While science faces threat from scientism as it can give result in ‘radical skepticism’, all the scientific disciplines are being undermined by institutional economics and management which have emerged disguises as science of sort.

Wittingly or unwittingly they who identify genuine science with institutional science also practice indefensible scientism. There are structural compulsions for practicing scientism which are rooted in the inequitable social structure which enlightened political intervention alone can alter. How else can the science of keeping mother’s milk poison free for the coming generations take birth?

Gopal Krishna

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