At a time when the focus is on threats to privacy of our data, a controversy has erupted over the Petroleum Ministry asking 10 lakh petrol pump employees for sensitive personal details like their caste, religion and constituency.
The government claims they are seeking this data for a government’s skill development scheme but dealers have threatened to go to court saying these details are personal and uncalled for.
The dealers have also accused the oil companies of threatening them for resisting.
NDTV has accessed letters written on June 6 by three public sector oil companies – Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd – to 59,000 petroleum dealers across the nation asking them to send the data of their employees for what is known as the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) scheme under the PM’s Skill Development Scheme.
The letter says that once the data is submitted, the employees would be awarded a certificate which would be a “formal qualification” and “can be used for realizing career aspirations”.
But what is unclear is why the details sought include Aadhaar number, caste, religion and constituency.
The Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers (CIPD) wrote a letter to the three companies on June 11 saying that the initiative is “violative of fundamental rights”. K Suresh Kumar, General Secretary, CIPD told NDTV, “Such personal information should be preserved between employers and the employees. Considering the intricacies of secrecy and dignity of maintaining confidentiality, we have written to the oil companies that we will not be interested in sharing this information.”
Dealers claim that the government is not backing down and is threatening them that if the data is not sent supplies would be blocked.
NDTV reviewed a message reportedly received by Indian Oil petroleum dealers in Punjab from the Sales Officer of Indian Oil in the state, Ashish Jain.
The message says “RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) data for many RO’s (Retail Outlets) has not been received. I will block supplies for these ROs wef (with effect from) this Monday if details are not sent to me by tomorrow evening 7 pm.”
When NDTV dialled the number of the sender, the person who picked up admitted that he was indeed Ashish Jain, the Sales Officer of Indian Oil in Punjab but he refused to confirm or deny that the message was sent by him.
The Punjab Petroleum Dealers Association has sent a legal notice to the Indian Oil Corporation, against the threats.
We have also not received a response from the three oil companies.
NDTV tried contacting Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan but were told he is currently unavailable.
On July 23, when the protest by dealers in Punjab was first reported by ‘The Tribune’ newspaper, the Petroleum Minister responded at a public function by his Ministry by saying, ” What have they asked for? Their caste, religion and where the person stays. How big a mistake have they made? When we get a child admitted into school don’t we answer these questions?”
Moreover, questions are being raised not just over violation of privacy but over whether this controversial move is to pad up numbers for the government’s beleaguered skill development scheme.
Government data shows that the scheme managed to skill around 29 lakh people from 2015-2018, out of which only six lakh could be placed – a placement rate of around only 21 per cent.
The question remains whether adding 10 lakh petroleum employees as beneficiaries of its scheme is an attempt by the government to boost numbers, and also harvest politically useful data.