New Delhi: A strike to demand their outstanding wages by municipal corporation employees, who were likely to be roped-in for the COVID-19 innoculation drive, may further hit vaccine roll-out, which is already generating a lot of hesitancy due to absence of efficacy data.
Since January 7, civic staff in Delhi’s municipal corporations have been striking work to get their salary and pension dues, delays of which run into five to six months in many cases.
Those on strike include teachers, engineers, nurses, safai karamcharis among others. As a result, operations in at least one of three corporations in the city have come to nearly to a grinding halt.
All the three civic bodies in the national capital – North MCD, East MCD, and South MCD – are currently controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that is ruling at the Centre.
The North Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD), which is known for being the “worst in terms of its administrative functioning”, if employees are to be believed, is also among the worst affected by the strike action. This zone boasts of having multiple corporation-run hospitals, and medical dispensaries.
Newsclick had earlier reported that many of these hospitals were only operating emergency services currently, and around 250 of the dispensaries were shut.
Jai Prakash, mayor, NDMC, said on Friday that four of these hospitals – Hindu Rao, Kasturba, Mrs. Girdhar Lal Maternity, and Rajan Babu Institute of Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis (RBIPMT) – saw a dry run for the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out earlier this month, and were listed earlier as vaccine providing sites.
“There were in total 76 sites under the North zone which were listed earlier to be providing vaccine shots to the beneficiaries. Subsequently, 700 to 800 civic employees under us also received the training for the same,” he told Newsclick.
But all these were “de listed” later, Jai Prakash added, suggesting it was possibly due to the ongoing strike by civic employees.
“We protested against it but the Delhi government (led by Aam Aadmi Party) told us that these centres will now be included in the second phase,” he said.
India launched its first round of vaccine campaign on January 16, which seeks to immunise 10 million healthcare workers and 20 million frontline workers. The second phase is likely to immunise those either aged above 50 or afflicted with chronic health disorders.
Under the Health Ministry’s guidelines, each site is being aimed at vaccinating 100 people each day. There are 181 sites as of day four of the vaccination drive in Delhi, as per The Indian Express.
Over 18,000 people have so far – till Thursday – have received the jab in the national capital, according to the official numbers. Prakash believes the number could have been higher had the strike by civic employees been averted, somehow.
Pulling up both the Delhi government and MCD for failing to address the grievances of the protesting civic staff, the Delhi High Court said that the matter is reduced to a “political slug fest.”
“… (As) far as Delhi government is concerned… this problem has arisen because Delhi government is sandwiched between central government and MCD, which belong to the opposite political party,” The Indian Express reported the division bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli as observing on Thursday.
The court on Thursday, however, ordered the Delhi government to provide funds to the corporation and directed the latter to utilise the amount received only for disbursal of outstanding salaries and pensions.
Prakash told Newsclick that to clear the arrears till October, the NDMC would require “Rs 800 to 900 crore”. The situation of outstanding wages is not “so dire” in East and South zone, according to him. The two zones have also remained rather less affected by the ongoing work strike.
Durgesh Pathak, the MCD leader of AAP, who had earlier blamed the BJP and its “corrupt” tactics for the prevailing financial condition of the corporations in Delhi, was not immediately available for a response on Friday.
A P Khan, convenor, Confederation of MCD Employees Union, the umbrella body of civic employees’ associations that is spearheading the strike, told Newsclick that the strike won’t be called off unless a “permanent solution” is reached.
“We are left with no other choice but to boycott the vaccination duties, even though we understand the national importance of the drive,” Khan rued. On Friday, over 500 of striking employees took out a four-km-long “paidal march” from Rohini Sector 5, hoping that their demands are heard at the earliest.