New Delhi: “Naa aata hai, naa daal hai, ghar ka bura haal hai (There is no flour and no pulses, the house, too, is in bad condition),” reads the placard held by 53-year-old Shirish Singh at the civic workers march in the national capital on January 15. A teacher in one of the many schools run by North Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD), Singh claimed this to be “not merely a slogan but a harsh reality” – one that is faced not just by him, but nearly a lakh of other civic employees in the city.
“The last salary that I received was for the month of July – paid only in November last year during Diwali. I haven’t been paid a single penny since then,” he rued, as he stood among the aggrieved employees of all the three arms of the national capital’s municipal corporation, that has been striking work since January 7 – for the second time in less than two months.
Pressing the civic bodies to clear their dues relating to salaries and pensions at the earliest, on Friday, January 15, the striking employees decided to march from the MCD Civic Centre to Delhi Secretariat. They couldn’t, however, as the Delhi Police had put up barricades, accompanied by water cannon, to stop the rally.
Called by an umbrella body, namely Confederation of the MCD Employees Union, the march saw participation in hundreds mainly by teachers, engineers, nurses, along with pensioners – most of whom are or were employed by the NDMC, which is infamous for registering one of the worst track records in administrative functioning, according to the unions.
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).
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Sunitha Rani, 49, who is among the staff at one of the MCD-run Maternal and Child Welfare Centre in Kirti Nagar lamented that she hasn’t received her salary payments since the month of August. “Earlier the salaries would get disbursed by 8th of every month; it started getting delayed till 20th afterwards and then eventually to two months. But now our patience has been tested too far, with salaries being withheld for the past 5-6 months,” said Rani, the anger in her voice clear.
“Since last two years we haven’t received any bonus, while our DA (dearness allowances) arrears are not cleared yet. There has been no promotion as well. For how long do the authorities expect us to continue like this?,” asked Promila, 47, who works at the Welfare Centre in Narela.
Delayed monthly payments that employees complained has been an issue ever since the trifurcation of the corporation body – back in 2012 – and has only worsened with the pandemic-triggered disruptions in their lives. For example, Sadhna Khanna, 57, working in the Education Department, had to sell “all” her jewellery to keep feed her family. Not being paid since August, she was forced to do this after her husband, too, lost his job during the COVID-19 triggered lockdown period.
Kalpesh Kumar, 38, a nursing officer in North MCD’s Rajan Babu Institute of Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis (RBIPMT) told NewClick that for years it has become some sort of a “drill.” “Every time we strike work, the authorities start paying us the salaries. It goes on for up to three months and then again the delays kick in. It is happening since many years now,” he said.
Kumar added that he thought that things would improve – at least during the pandemic. “We would treat the COVID-19 patients, putting our health to risk. We were hailed as frontline workers… but all that amounted to nothing as our work conditions remained deplorable as ever,” he said.
On Friday, January 15, the marching employees flayed both the Aam Aadmi Party – led Delhi government and the BJP for “playing politics” over their salary issues rather than “coming up with any serious solutions.” A section of employees also clapped and banged pots and pans – ostensibly in reference to an earlier call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in March which was given to thank the COVID-19 fighters.
A P Khan, convenor of the confederation, told NewsClick that, “The movement of civic employees will only get strengthened in the days to come… till we get a permanent solution to our grievances. On Friday, we submitted a memorandum to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal regarding the same.”
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On Thursday, in a press conference addressed by Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, it was announced that the Delhi government will provide Rs 938 crore to the three municipal corporations to pay pending salaries to their employees. This came days after it was decided that primary health workers, nursing staff and teachers were likely to be roped in for the vaccination drive in the city, that is scheduled to begin from Saturday, January 16.
However, owing to the strike, some employees’ associations have reportedly threatened to “boycott” the vaccine programme duties.
While Khan said that the employees would be “engaged” in the vaccination process, he stressed that “a complete non-cooperation” would be observed, as the employees “are only unable” to discharge their duties due to “extreme difficult position”, that the authorities have put them in.
“Most of the protesting employees here do not even have enough money to even travel to the vaccine centres possible. In such a situation, to participate fully in the vaccine programmes will surely be difficult,” he said.
The corporation authorities along with the Delhi government must have thought about this “in a serious manner” earlier, Khan said, adding, “Pay the employees their salaries… otherwise the vaccination [programme] will only fail.”