Doctors, nurses not the first to go on strike; Delhi's municipal corporations have a history of playing politics over salary dues
If one does the math, for a population of roughly 2 crore, at a rate of Rs 488 per person leading to an annual funding requirement of Rs 1,150 crore, the Delhi MCDs should be demanding at least Rs 12,000 crore from the Central Government
On 2 November, 2020, hundreds of nurses went on an indefinite strike over their pending salaries from August to October. The strike called by the Nurses Welfare Association (NWA) comes after the outfit wrote a letter to North Delhi Mayor Jai Prakash over non-payment of salaries and said it will "begin an indefinite strike from 2 November".
Doctors and nurses of Hindu Rao, Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Diseases, Kasturba Hospital, Girdhari Lal Maternity Hospital, and Rajan Babu Institute of Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis — all run by the Delhi municipal corporations — have been protesting over non-payment of dues since March and have also been threatening to resign en masse. While the medical staff at hospitals run by the Govt of NCT of Delhi were quarantined in five-star hotels and doctors who lost their lives received compensation of no less than Rs one crore, the staff at MCD-run hospitals have been fighting for as little as their own salaries.
The party in power in the MCD is the Bharatiya Janata Party. On 22 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call to the people of India to ring bells and blow whistles in honour of the medical warriors of India who were risking their lives on the frontline. India’s big and small streets were shrouded in sacred shank vibrations. The BJP-led MCD has dishonoured the prime minister's word. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that the MCD has understood that the governance matrix in the National Capital is too complicated for the layman to comprehend.
There are a dozen road-owning agencies under the jurisdiction of the Central Government while the management of hospitals on Delhi soils could fall either under the Centre, the BJP-led MCD or the Delhi Government. So, if anything goes amiss in any hospital other than AIIMS or Safdarjung, which are more popular as the Government of India hospitals, the first party to be blamed is the party in power in the state since the knowledge about the jurisdiction of medical establishments is abysmal.
Who owes whom: Billboards vs Audit reports
Of late, large billboards have cropped up across the National Capital claiming that the Arvind Kejriwal-led Government of Delhi owes Rs 13,000 crore to the three MCDs. Citing the lack of funds, the municipal bodies are justifying their holding back of staff salaries.
To the hundreds of citizens driving past these billboards, this seems like a big scam on the part of the Delhi Government. These public messages are bereft of a quote from an MCD Mayor but lack as much as a credible source on how the MCDs arrived at the figures.
These claims, like most claims with big numbers, require some unmasking. Firstly, the official records of the Department of Urban Development, Govt of NCT of Delhi, on 1 April, 2020, state that a total of Rs 6,008 crore was the outstanding loan amount on the MCDs. This is merely the loan amount that the corporation owes the state government over and above the annual budgetary allocation made towards the MCDs.
Audit Report 1 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the finances of Government of Delhi as on 31 March 2018 stated that "loans amounting Rs 2,059.87 crore were outstanding against the erstwhile MCD as on 31 March 2012. After trifurcation, these loans were divided between SDMC (Rs 936 crore), NDMC (Rs 729. 61 crore) and EDMC (Rs 394.26 crore)".
The report further stated that "over the period of 2012-2018, the liability of the MCDs in terms of outstanding loans towards the Govt of NCT of Delhi increased substantially to a total of Rs 3,814.89 crore as on 31 March 2018".
Blinded by political posturing, the MCD seems unaware of one constitutional nugget – that under Article 270 (3), it is the Centre’s duty to grant funds to the MCD. In the report of the 14th Finance Commission, it is stated that the Central Government has to provide grants to all municipalities.
Since 2001, when the Congress was in power, the Central Government hasn’t granted any funds to the MCDs. Funds have been granted to Ghaziabad, Gurugram, and other municipalities in Delhi NCR.
So, if we do the math, for a population of roughly 2 crore, at a rate of Rs 488 per person leading to an annual funding requirement of Rs 1,150 crore, the MCD should be demanding Rs 12,000 crore from the Central Government.
But that won’t serve the management’s political goal of returning to power in 2022. So, the obvious thing to do is to blame the Kejriwal-led government.
In 2015, the Chief Minister of Delhi had, in fact, sent a letter to the then Union Minister of Finance Late Arun Jaitley in which he had requested for Rs 1,000 crore as basic and performance grants to the National Capital’s local bodies.
If the billboards had any basis, the three mayors could have held press conferences with numbers and figures and exposed the Delhi Government’s shortcomings rupee by rupee.
The MCD’s own internal audit report of 2016-2017 points to financial management where the South MCD has Rs 1,177 crore outstanding arrears of property tax but no attempt at recovery was made.
When the notice for the strike was given by the doctors and the nurses, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain had said that COVID-19 patients from Hindu Rao Hospital which is run by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) will be shifted to state government-run hospitals.
“The staff of the hospital should be paid their salaries. If MCD isn’t able to run Hindu Rao and Kasturba hospitals, the management of these two should be handed over to the state government,” the minister had said.
On 25 October, when the concerns of the healthcare staff were going unheard, Jain slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led MCD.
“Salaries are paid by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Instead of paying doctors' salaries, don't know where the MCD is spending its funds. They've money for hoardings but not for salaries.”
Responding to the remarks, the North MCD in a statement said that Jain, who is also Delhi's urban development minister has assured the mayors of clearing all pending dues in 10 days. Jain, however, accused the municipal corporations of levelling baseless allegations against the Delhi government.
A high court order, dated 12 June, 2020, stated that Sanjay Jain, learned Additional Solicitor General of India appearing for Govt of NCT of Delhi, "very fairly submitted that they have already disbursed the legally payable amount to North Delhi Municipal Corporation in the month of May 2020. Nonetheless, they are ready to disburse an additional amount for payment of salary to the resident doctors of all aforesaid six hospitals by 18 June 2020."
Mohalla clinics vs MCD-run hospitals
Now compare the situation of the MCD-run hospitals in Delhi to the Mohalla Clinic model of the Delhi government where a doctor is able to earn up to Rs 1.5 lakh by only giving half a day to patients.
"We are now getting requests from doctors at super speciality hospitals to join Mohalla Clinics," shared Dr Arun Gupta, the newly-elected president of the Delhi Medical Council.
The Government of NCT of Delhi’s COVID-19 Care response earned the praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a cabinet meeting on 11 July. The Government of NCT of Delhi, which is known for its 360-degree healthcare revolution – through setting up Mohalla Clinics and polyclinics and revamping super speciality hospitals, allocated Rs 7,704 crore towards healthcare in its 2020 budget.
In July 2020, the Director General Health Services in the Govt of NCT of Delhi issued an order directing private hospitals to pay a minimum salary of Rs 20,000 to nurses in compliance with the recommendations of a Central Government and a state government committee.
How MCD politics breeds chaos
Municipalities with political ambitions of their own are insincere by design. The 74th amendment of the Constitution pushed for decentralised governance by empowering local bodies to resist prolonged suppression from higher forms of government and become vibrant democratic units of self-government. But the Delhi MCD took a political turn when big money and big power seeped into its cadres. The history of the organisation’s evolution explains how this happened.
In Delhi, the Chief Minister's Office was abolished from 1956 to 1993.
Here’s how the story goes. The institution of the Metropolitan Council was devised as a compromise between a representative body with full legislative and financial powers and administration by the President through his nominee, the administration. This was then the highest elected body of the National Capital and its important functionaries featured an administrator, presiding officers, Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition, whips, members, secretary and the secretariat. While Shri Shiv Charan Gupta of the Congress party was the Leader of the Opposition in the First Metropolitan Council, Vijay Kuma Malhotra (Jan Sangh) and Shri Dharam Das Shastri (Congress) were the Leaders of the Opposition in the Second and Third Councils, respectively.
One of the reasons Sheila Dikshit was able to corner Sushma Swaraj on rising onion prices during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre was because the saffron party's cadre was non-existent back then. Then, Dikshit trifurcated the MCD out of fear that one big municipality with big money could threaten her own government's power.
The BJP, however, made excellent use of the trifurcation. What former chief minister Sheila Dikshit had done to reduce the powers of a single mayor, who could have acted as a threat and lead to the creation of decentralised positions, for instance, membership of the standing committee, the post of the deputy chairman, or the three Mayor posts. These could be offered to people which, in turn, helped establish a strong cadre for the saffron party.
By and large, it has been seen that the middle class doesn't care too much about voting in municipal elections. In the 2017 MCD elections, the voter turnout was 54 percent. Back then, election commissioner SK Srivastava had confirmed that North Municipal Corporation’s Bakhtawarpur ward recorded the highest turnout at over 68 percent, while South Delhi’s Lado Sarai registered merely 39 percent turnout.
The class divide in the interest towards the MCD election reflects the city’s understanding of the MCD vis-à-vis the Delhi government, an opportunity to eclipse corruption behind the chaos.
Delhi doctors are not the first to face salary issues from MCD
The people who are suffering the most are those who work in municipality-run establishments. Today, it is the doctors. In 2018, the safai karamcharis were singing the same tune.
In an article in Firstpost, Sant Lal Chawaria, chairman, Delhi Commission for Safai Karamcharis (established in 2006 as a statutory body at the state-level, in pursuance of the Delhi Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 2006) had said that they weren’t being paid on time despite a high court order dated 11 July, 2016, stating that municipal corporations shall pay the safai karamcharis on or before the 10th of every month.
The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) had stated in its annual report of 2015-2016 that M Shivanna, chairman of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis along with others had met then-Lieutenant Governor of NCT of Delhi Najeeb Jung and briefed him about the irregularity in payment of salaries to the safai karamcharis in various corporations of the city.
The Aam Aadmi Party is only one full term old but the politics around non-payment of salaries was earlier fought between BJP and Congress, much against the principle of Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s antyodyay, and much at the cost of the last men in the line.
Pallavi Rebbapragada is an author, a journalist and a Research Fellow attached to the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of NCT of Delhi.
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