Garbage politics 2.0: Delhi's sanitation workers to go on another strike from 26 June

New Delhi: Delhi may have breathed easy after they called off their agitation that resulted in some streets being choked with garbage, but the safai karamcharis or sanitation workers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi are set to go on a fresh indefinite strike from 26 June again over various demands. And they've promised to choke the streets with garbage again.

Among the demands of the workers include the disbursement of their salaries for three months, confirmation of contractual employees’ services, payment of arrears to those whose services were regularised in 2003 and 2004, and cashless medical facilities. The 28 workers’unions across the three wings of the MCD have come together to form the  ‘Joint Front of MCD Unions’ to press for their demands.

 Garbage politics 2.0: Delhis sanitation workers to go on another strike from 26 June

A street filled with garbage after the earlier strike. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

“We will gherao Vidhan Sabha (Delhi Assembly) on 26 June and will go on indefinite strike till our salaries are credited in our bank accounts and other demands are met. We called off the last 10-day strike after we were assured that our salaries will be released till 15 June. But we were cheated once again,” RB Oontwaal, a member of the newly formed front and general secretary of Delhi Nagar Nigam Safai Majdoor Sangh (MCD sanitation workers union) told Firstpost.

“We have not so far received our salaries. This is not the first occasion when we were given false promises. It has happened earlier as well,” he said.

Around 30,000 sanitation workers of the East and North Delhi municipal corporations had called off a strike which began on 2 June after the Delhi High Court intervened and directed the state government to pay their dues for the last three months by 15 June.

The Aam Aadmi Party which is presently holds charge of the Delhi government claimed it had already given Rs 513 crore to the municipal corporation to pay the April-June salaries on the evening of 11 June.

“We have made the payment of Rs 513 crore for the financial quarter ending June. Rs 180 crore has been given to the EDMC and Rs 333 crore for the NDMC (North Delhi Municipal Corporation),” AAP spokesperson Dilip Pandey said.

Pandey said that the city gives around  Rs 1.25 lakh crore to the Centre as taxes every three months but in return gets only Rs 2,000 crore.

“Except this and few other small grants, we do not have any inflow of the Central funds to support the MCD. As set by the Delhi Finance Commission, we have to give the civic body 10.5 percent from our share of the tax collection. We give 9 percent as planned and unplanned budget to the corporations but do not give their 1.5% performance-based share because the three corporations have miserably failed to perform their duties,”he said.

Leader of the house in East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) Ram Narayan Goel instead chose to dub the sanitation workers “Congress agents”, and claimed their salaries for the months of March and April have already been paid. He said the EDMC is in the process of clearing the outstanding for the month of June.

“We have released Rs 32 crore to clear the salary dues of all Group-D employees. We will clear their salaries till June shortly. The sanitation workers have become an agent of the Congress party, which is unnecessarily trying to politicise the issue,” Goel told Firstpost.

The workers have been received support from Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who joined their protest twice – first at the EMCD headquarters on 12 June and then at Jantar Mantar on 17 June.

“This is not a fight for cleanliness of Delhi or the cleanliness of the country. This is a fight for your dignity,” Gandhi told the protesting workers. I have come here to give my strength to your fight,” he told the protesting workers.

‘While you continue with your cleanliness initiatives, we continue to die’

Apart from their pending salaries, the sanitation workers are seeking timely payment of their salaries in the first week of every month, payment of arrears for those whose services were regularised in 2003 and 2004, cashless medical facilities and the payment of their child education allowance.

“The rule book says if a person who is serving the MCD on contact has 240-day attendance for three consecutive years, he or she will be considered as permanent staff of the civic body. But violating all norms, the MCD regularised the services of those who were appointed in 1996 in 2003 and 2004. We demand that the MCD to give us arrears since 2003,” Naresh Kumar Jha, media in charge of the MCD Mazdoor Congress, said.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

He said that the workers were exposed to different toxic gases when they go inside sewer lines and always face health risks and therefore should be provided with cashless medical facilities so that they can avail of medical facilities at an MCD approved hospital.

“We have not been provided uniforms for the past 20 years. We are to get Rs 17,000 per year for the education of our children, but the amount has also not be given for the last two years,” Jha told Firstpost.

Oontwal, from the joint union, promised that the next strike will have serious repercussions.

“We are ready to face lathis and bullets but we won’t allow the garbage to be lifted. Yeh hamare pet ki ladai hai. Tumhara Swachhata Abhiyan chalta rahe aur hum marte rahen (This is a matter of our livelihoods. While you continue with your cleanliness initiatives, we continue to die),” he said.

When asked what about the residents of the city who will suffer ultimately, he said, “We apologise to them with folded hands. We are left with no option but to take this extreme step.”

“If the government doesn’t have money to pay us, how will it arrange for money to treat people if an epidemic spreads in the city because of piles of rotting garbage lying on roads and bylanes?” Oontwal said.

According to the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment), 2011, the 10.5 percent of the Delhi share in central taxes is delivered to the civic bodies in three quarters (25 percent of the total amount in the first quarter of April-June, 50 percent in July-December and the remaining 25 percent in the final quarter of January-March).

Delhi govt’s funds not enough, say municipal bodies

The BJP-ruled corporations say that the money released by the Delhi government is insufficient.

“The amount released by the Delhi government is not enough. We still need an additional amount to pay salaries and pensions. We demand an additional amount of Rs 100 crore. In addition, our global share, which stands at Rs 300 crore in every financial quarter, must be released without delay so that we can continue our services,” NDMC Mayor Ravinder Gupta told Firstpost.

EDMC Mayor Hardeep Malhotra said his corporation should be allocated Rs 2,000 crore in the April-June quarter of the ongoing financial year.

“We need at least Rs 2,000 crore because our income from house tax, toll tax, conversion, parking charges and advertisement stands at Rs 750 crore but the total expenditure is Rs 1,800 crore. We have to shell out Rs 1,100 as salary,” he said.

When asked why the EDMC hadn’t made any effort to increase revenues instead of depending on the government for funds, he said, “House tax is the main source of EDMC’s income but only 30 percent of the houses in east Delhi are liable to pay the tax. The remaining 70 percent are either unauthorised colonies or slum clusters, which are not required to pay the tax.”

Although post the splitting of the civic body, the Delhi government has partial control over the functioning of the MCD, the three bodies are still administered by the Centre through the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957. The Director of Local Bodies, who reports to the state government, now keeps an eye on the working of the corporations. Earlier, the civic body used to get funds from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly, Vijender Gupta, considers the splitting of the MCD into three separate corporations in May 2012 is the prime reason of the fund crunch. He advised Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to see the financial issues in “proper perspective”.

“The resources in unified MCD were equally divided amongst the entire local bodies without reference to geographical areas.  The erstwhile MCD had a loan liability of Rs 1,800 crores and contractors’ liability of Rs 650 crores, which was to be waived off or to be passed as one time grant. Instead of this, the liability was passed on to the newly formed three corporations,” Gupta said.

“In fact, the East, North and South Municipal Corporations should have not been burdened with the liabilities of the erstwhile MCD. This amount is being recovered with 13.5% interest.  It is being deducted from grants and revenue sharing,”he said.

While the NDMC has loans to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore, SDMC has dues of about Rs 1,700 crore. On the other hand, the EDMC has loans that amount to about Rs 1,300 crore.

The Delhi government, according to Gupta, owes Rs 1,800 crores to the three corporations for implementing the ‘Unit Area Method’ of property tax.  The government in 2004 had assured to compensate the loss caused by the new method, he said.

The EDMC is the worst hit of the three municipal corporations.

“On 1 April 2012 (a month before the trifurcation of the MCD), we were in the deficit Rs 451 crore. Therefore, the corporation sought a subsidy grant of Rs 421 crore. But instead of the grant, the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in the state gave only Rs 335 crore at a hefty rate of interest of 10.5 percent. We have paid back about Rs 300 crore in the past three years,” Malhotra, the EDMC mayor, said.

He alleged that the Delhi government was supposed to give a grant of Rs 140 crore to the EDMC in the current financial quarter, but has given only Rs 76 crore.

But with the AAP government sticking to its guns on the release of funds and the Centre remaining mum on the impending strike, Delhi residents may just have to prepare to walk about with their noses covered again if the matter is not resolved by 26 June.

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Updated Date: Jun 20, 2015 09:21:13 IST