Already under intense criticism for delaying salaries of its employees, North Delhi’s civic body on Friday revealed that its overall pending liabilities on account of salaries and pensions has crossed Rs 1000 crore in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an affidavit submitted to the Delhi High Court, accessed by NewsClick, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) shared its month-wise pending wage liability up to the month of June this year. The amount now stands at a whopping Rs. 1,145.75 crore.
The matter came about when the Delhi HC was hearing an appeal filed by Akhil Dilli Prathmik Shiksha Sangh (ADPSS). The case was about the salary dues of 9,000 teachers in NDMC-run schools in Delhi, which have been pending since March this year.
NDMC’s dues include salary payments, pension and terminal dues to its employees from all groups including doctors, nurses, teachers and safai karamcharis among others associated with the civic body.
“This is the first time that the arrears have crossed such a high figure since the trifurcation of the municipal corporation. Pending dues usually last for two to three months. However, this time, we have not been able to clear salaries for a period of up to four months now,” Bishwajeet Roy, Deputy Controller of Accounts (DCA), NDMC, told NewsClick.
The trifurcation of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi happened in 2012. All the three resultant civic bodies – NDMC, East MCD and South MCD – are currently controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Citing “financial constraints” for not being able to release salaries to its employees, the municipal body provided a break up of the pending dues, which reveals that none of its employees have been paid their salary for the month of May as yet. Health workers, including nurses, have not been since April. Doctors and teachers associated with the civic statutory body were last paid for February.
The figures of pending dues were shared by the NDMC in the wake of a spate of protests by employees – who are also being hailed as “corona warriors” by the powers that be – demanding their monthly payments.
Earlier, in the month of June, more than 350 resident doctors of two hospitals – Kasturba Hospital and Hindu Rao Hospital – administered by North MCD, threatened mass resignations over pending salaries. Similarly, primary teachers in as many as 200 out of 714 schools run by North MCD, sat on a hunger strike this month.
Last week, while hearing the appeal made by ADPSS, the Delhi HC directed the municipal corporation to clear the arrears of salaries to teachers within a week, saying that the teachers “cannot be made to run from pillar to post only to demand their lawful dues”.
The court had asked the North MCD to submit a compliance report regarding the same during the next hearing.
“It is with great anguish and distress that the answering respondent (North MCD) is unable to release salaries of its various categories of employees due to the financial constraints being faced by it,” the civic body told the HC on Friday.
Roy explained the ‘financial constraints’, saying that “due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, people have stopped paying taxes for now.” According to him, sales and purchases have decreased, and revenue from sources such like parking lots have been hit by the restrictions on movement. Hence, he said, our “coffers have dried up.”
Revenue is gained by municipal corporations in Delhi primarily through taxes such as those levied on property, and by a grant-in-aid released quarterly by the Delhi government. On Friday, the Delhi government informed the HC that there had been no issues on its part in releasing the grants to the North MCD – as has often been maintained by its leaders in the media.
“That it is the North MCD who are not paying salary to the teachers since March 2020 whereas answering respondent (Delhi government) has already released the permissible Grant in Aid upto May 2020 and for the month of June the salary payable in July, the proposal has been sent to Finance Department GNCTD for approval and after getting approval the same will be released without any fault (sic),” the Aam Aadmi Party-led government said in its status report.
Confirming the same, Roy told NewsClick that the grants released to the civic body in the month of April and May were used “to clear previous liabilities.”
It was because, as the NDMC also pointed out to the HC, due to a pending matter before the Supreme Court over the honouring of government’s liabilities under the fourth Delhi Finance Commission (DFC) – a controversial tussle between the civic bodies and the Delhi government after the latter reportedly refused to implement it.
According to NDMC, the pending amount payable to it under the fourth DFC, is Rs 968.97 crore. Durgesh Pathak, AAP’s MCD in-charge in Delhi, called the demand of payment under the fourth DFC “nonsensical”. According to him, the AAP government has cleared payments to NDMC under the fifth DFC, and if the salaries have not been paid to the employees as yet, then an investigation is needed in the matter.
“Delhi’s MCD – under BJP – has become a den of corruption. The court must investigate where the money has gone and when the grants were released to NDMC,” he said.
Meanwhile, salaries (for March) for 5,400 primary teachers – who were engaged in COVID-19-related activities – out of the total teaching staff engaged with North MCD, were released on Friday, Pavan Bansal, Vice President of ADPSS, informed NewsClick.
Taking note of the gravity of the situation, the High Court agreed to convert the appeal into a PIL and has scheduled the next hearing in the case for June 30, he added.