Delhi garbage crisis: Dumping on streets unfortunate, but spare a thought for MCD workers

For the five days sanitation workers of East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) struck work, a part of Delhi remained a stinking mess. Garbage ruled the roads and stench pervaded the air. The sight of loads of east Delhi’s waste in public spaces was not only troubling but also exasperating. Exasperating because much of the mess was the work of the striking employees whose primary job is to keep the city clean and hygienic. They dumped garbage to draw attention of the public to their problems, the biggest being non-receipt of salary for three months.

Representational photo. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Representational photo. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

One cannot help but empathise with them. It’s not easy for low-paid workers to do without their salaries for long. Besides attending to everyday needs, rents have to be paid, their kids' school fees have to be cleared and health emergencies have to be taken care of. In fact, such a situation is not easy for any one. Worse, in their case, non-receipt of salary is a recurring issue and there’s no permanent solution in sight. But is that reason enough to cause inconvenience to the public by throwing garbage in public spaces?

Several localities in Patparganj suffered as waste was not cleared in those five days. The unauthorised colonies – close to 70 percent of residents of east Delhi stay in such colonies and slum clusters – were the worst affected. Traffic on busy streets crawled because of the dirt deposited. East Delhi, for those not in the know, generates more than 2,500 tonnes of waste per day. If not cleared daily, it might lead to serious health hazards. Sanitary workers exposed residents of the city to health hazards in these five days.

This is difficult to accept or forgive. This follows a sick practice in the country where doctors sometimes leave patients to their fate while going on strike. The strategy where you have to cause trouble to the public to draw their attention simply does not make sense. However, this seems to have become an accepted method since subtler ways hardly work with the powers that be. They can ignore the demands of sanitation workers but they cannot afford to ignore the inconvenience to the larger citizenry.

The blame lies squarely on the inability of the authorities to find, even think in terms of finding a solution to the lingering problem and letting political noise drown the voice of around 1.5 lakh MCD employees. While Arvind Kejriwal’s government claims it has been providing enough money to the municipal corporations, the latter, led by the BJP, has been contesting the claim, citing the paucity of funds to clear the salaries of employees. The fact is there’s a problem of funds and it needs to be sorted with a reasonable approach from both sides.

The trifurcation of the MCD in 2012 created three sets of employees of the similar size as the original one and later the loan liabilities of the erstwhile MCD was passed on to the municipal corporations of East, North and South. With revenue sources limited, the money earned by the civic bodies remains far short of expenditure. The case of East Delhi Municipal Corporation is particularly worrisome because of unauthorised colonies. The tax on house and business establishments fetches it a pittance. It earns around Rs 750 crore per month while its expenditure is around Rs 1,800 crore. According to sources it has a loan burden of around Rs 1,300 crore. The state government allocates it about Rs 465 crore. It is supposed to pass on 10.5 percent of the state’s share in central taxes to the civic bodies.

One may quibble over the numbers but the fact remains that problem of funds need urgent attention from the Centre and the state government. However, trapped in adversarial politics neither would take the initiative. Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit managed the situation rather well as she did not allow administration to suffer because of her politics. However, this cannot be expected of all chief ministers. This calls for a wider political debate on the management of the municipal corporations in the national capital, particularly the funds aspect.

In the absence of that, MCD employees will keep hitting the streets at regular intervals. There’s little point in criticising how they express their anger. But one can appeal to them to desist from inconveniencing the public.


Updated Date: Jan 11, 2017 17:41 PM

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