Miffed with BJP, Municipal Corporation of Delhi's Dalit workers rally behind Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's call for statehood

"Arvind Kejriwal got lakhs of votes and 67 seats. His demands are our demands," said Sunil, a Dalit who belongs to the Valmiki community. Sunil wiped beads of sweat from his forehead on a hot Sunday afternoon in central Delhi.

As per data from the 2001 census, Delhi has 500,221 citizens from the Valmiki (Balmiki) caste, which is India's second largest caste. More than 80 percent of them are engaged in sweeping and scavenging. Sunil wondered aloud: If Prime Minister Narendra Modi was emphasising Swachh Bharat, then why are those keeping India clean not a priority for the Centre?

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been the under the charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party for the past 15 years. Until a few days ago, hundreds of safai karamcharis were protesting outside the MCD's swanky headquarters on Minto Road in central Delhi. Under the umbrella of the Swatantra Mazdoor Sanyukt Morcha, 22 unions were a part of this protest, which began on 16 March.

Ram Raj, one of the key organisers of the protest, holds a senior position in Swatantra Mazdoor Sanyukt Morcha. Ram told Firstpost 80 percent of the safai karamcharis in Delhi are from the Valmiki community. These are Class-4 employees who work in the Department of Environment Maintenance Services (DEMS) and the Public Works Department. He alleged that salaries weren't being paid on time and that 10,000 to 15,000 of them, who have been working for over a decade, have still not been regularised.

On Sunday, busloads of protesters from different constituencies reached Mandi House to support Kejriwal’s demand for statehood. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought Baijal's permission to meet Kejriwal at Raj Niwas, which was denied.

 Miffed with BJP, Municipal Corporation of Delhis Dalit workers rally behind Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwals call for statehood

Eleven Valmiki and Safai Karamchari organisations have pledged their support to Arvind Kejriwal in his demand for statehood. Pallavi Rebbapragada

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) told Firstpost salaries aren’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. It further stated that in case the 11th day of the month happens to be a holiday, a compliance report would be furnished on the 12th of the month.

Unfortunately, it hasn't panned out that way. Sant Lal said workers have to wait as long as three months for their salaries. He added that the regularisation of nearly 20,000 safai karamcharis is pending. Under the phased regularisation, two block years are taken. Those hired from 1 April, 1994, to 31 March, 1996, were confirmed in 2010 and received arrears from 2003. Those hired from 1 April, 1996, to 31 March, 1998, were confirmed in 2012 and received arrears from 2004.

Aside from these, Sant Lal said safai karamcharis who work for the MCD don’t receive terminal payment benefits or even something as basic as a cashless medical card that grants them access to healthcare, especially since their work involves spending long hours around filth and stench. He said the AAP government put the cause of safai karamcharis in their manifesto and made Rakhi Birla, who hails from the Valmiki community, a deputy speaker and also granted her a Lok Sabha ticket for 2014.

Virender Singh Churiyana, president (Delhi Pradesh) of the Valmiki Samaj Action Committee and also the Delhi Safai Karamchari Action Committee, told Firstpost that health minister Satyendar Jain wrote to the three municipal corporations to pass orders regarding the regularisation of staff in April but no action has been taken. He said the safai karamchari aayog has the power to question the three departments of the MCD regarding execution of court orders and added that the Centre's recent attempts to dilute the SC/ST Act only added fuel to fire.

One angle critical to the release of funds raises questions about the commitment of the Delhi government. Rahul Birla, also from the Valmiki community, filed a PIL in the high court claiming non-payment of salaries and arrears since 2003 to MCD workers, and that sanitation staff was not removing garbage from the streets.

The municipality depends on Delhi government for funding and the Delhi government further depends on the Centre for funds, said Rahul, explaining the cycle of pending funding approvals. However, the Supreme Court later refused to entertain Rahul’s plea seeking its intervention in the MCD employees' stir. The apex court said that it cannot ‘take over’ the functions of the Delhi High Court.

Hundreds of safai karamchaaris protesting outside MCD headquarters. Pallavi Rebbapragada

Hundreds of safai karamchaaris protesting outside MCD headquarters. Pallavi Rebbapragada

A bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said there was no stay on its 16 April direction to the Delhi government to pay within one month the amounts according to the recommendations of the 4th Delhi Finance Commission (DFC) and the order has to be complied with. "Do not stand on ego and say that since the Government of India is not paying you, you will not pay the municipal corporations,” the bench ordered.

The Delhi government was directed to release the amount between 1 November, 2017, to 31 March, 2018, and the court said the government can transfer the money to the two corporations without prejudice to its rights and contentions. “The AAP government cannot implement the 4th Delhi Finance Commission because it doesn’t want to increase taxes or disrupt its socialist schemes around education and health,” said Birla, presenting another version of the story and reasserting his support for Kejriwal.

The 4th Delhi Finance Commission report has been tabled in the Delhi cabinet and an affidavit was issued stating the same. Meanwhile, Sant Lal recalled a protest of nearly 1.25 lakh MCD workers that went on from 27 January, 2016, to 8 February, 2016. “During that 13-day strike, I was the chairman of the Swatantra Mazdoor Morcha and had exposed a scam of Rs 35 crore within the MCD. This included Rs 20 crore that was paid to contractors and Rs 15 crore that was misused as fake pensions of MCD officials. The AAP government has repeatedly emphasised transparency of accounts and if one is accepts that the MCD has no money, one also needs to look into spending records by the MCD in the past few years,” said Sant Lal.

The workers were further emboldened after Kejriwal raised the issue of regularisation in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha. The chief minister said in his speech that these people have been working for 20 years and haven’t been regularised as permanent employees. Kejriwal added that their children have grown, they were paying college fees and getting married and that the sanitation workers' would find it hard to fulfill their responsibilities if they aren't adequately and on time. He also remarked that the BJP, by character, was anti-Dalit and if the MCD fallen under the charge of the AAP government, things would have changed for the better.

The frustration on the faces of workers' was evident as they stuffed themselves into buses on a sultry Sunday and came all the way to central Delhi to pledge support to Kejriwal’s demand for Delhi statehood. Satish Karotia, from the Nigam Mazdoor Sarv Kalyan Morcha, another organisation committed to the welfare of safai karamcharis, said Rs 12,000 to Rs 13,000 is paid to a kuchha or a temporary employee and on this, Rs 1,672 is deducted as a contribution to the Employee Provident Fund.

Katoria, who also belongs to the Valmiki Samaj, said his organisation often receives calls from sanitation workers threatening to commit suicide because they have no money to raise a family with dignity, especially when salaries are delayed by 3 to 4 months and ration shops refuses to give them loans for food. It seems that those who clean Delhi with their bare hands are sleeping hungry and their support for Kejriwal is a result of years of abandonment by both the Congress and the BJP.

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 13:05:16 IST