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Delhi: Hundreds of Contractual Sanitation Workers Facing Livelihood Crisis After Being Removed Without Notice

A public hearing was held at the Constitution Club of India on Thursday, December 28, against the layoff of hundreds of contract sewer employees working under the Delhi Jal Board in different areas of Delhi.

Hundreds of sanitation workers have been fired in Delhi without any notice. All this happened when the government promised to provide permanent employment to all the contract employees, but today, hundreds of employees face a livelihood crisis. The aggrieved employees themselves told these things in a public hearing. 

Hundreds of sanitation workers in Delhi have been waiting for their salaries for the last two months. They did not receive their salaries but were fired by the contractor.

A public hearing was held at the Constitution Club of India on Thursday, December 28, against the layoff of hundreds of employees working under the Delhi Jal Board. 

A large jury panel was formed for this public hearing, which included Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves, former Member of Parliament and AIKS Vice President Hannan Mollah, State Level Shelter Monitoring Committee member Indu Prakash Singh, Central trade union CITU National Secretary Amitav Guha, Assistant Professor in Delhi University Sarita Bhoi, Director of Center for Workers Management Dithi Bhattacharya, Social activist Anil Varghese, Chairman of Delhi High Court Monitoring Committee Advocate Harnam Singh, Chairman of Delhi Safai Karmachari Commission Sanjay Gehlot and The Mooknayak's founding editor Meena Kotwal heard the testimony of 15 workers and then gave several recommendations by mutual consent.

Around 300 employees from all over Delhi gathered for the hearing and shared their pain and grievances with the jury panel and the audience. The testimony given by the workers revealed the shocking reality of their working conditions.

Workers from West Delhi's Pitampura said they were never told their actual wages and were sometimes paid in cash by the contractor without receipt. 

"We have been working for 15 years, many contractors come and go, but we have to fight for our daily wage of Rs 450," said an employee who did not wish to be named. An employee at Navjeevan Vihar said. The employee said that he did not receive his salary even for Diwali and Dussehra, and since then, his family has been surviving on loans.

An employee from Kalkaji in south Delhi said he was suddenly fired on December 7 without prior notice or reason. In another case, an Idgah store employee approached government officials over non-payment of salary but alleges that he was fired after the complaint was filed and has not been hired by any contractor since then. These employees allege that the contractors use intimidation tactics, which makes the employees unable to express their problems.

During this public hearing, almost all the employees said that they do not get minimum wages, and currently, they were fired without any prior notice. It is illegal for humans to enter sewers. However, during the hearing, it came to light that in many cases, including repairs, workers still have to enter sewers without any safety equipment. Although the employees also said that this had reduced considerably in the last few years, employees only have to go into the sewer when there is a major problem in the sewer line.

Delhi Safai Karamcharis Commission Chairman Sanjay Gehlot, who was part of the jury, took cognisance of everything stated by the employees during the public hearing and assured them that he would take immediate action to release the outstanding payments and ensure that their jobs were safe.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves, on the jury panel, told the workers, "Removing you without notice is illegal. It is illegal to not pay you your full salary and to pay you in cash." Along with this, he also raised questions about the Delhi government's policy.

After hearing testimony from employees present at the public hearing, the jury panel made the following recommendations. 

  • Immediate reinstatement of all contract sewer workers and payment of all pending dues, including salaries. They should also be provided with provident funds and other social security.
  • As per the Delhi Government's minimum wage notification ( October 01, 2022) for unskilled workers, workers should be paid at least Rs 17,494 monthly.
  • The jury, while appreciating the Aam Aadmi Party government's effort to regularise 700 contractual employees of Delhi Jal Board, asked them to regularise all the contractual employees working more than 240 days.
  • The court orders of Writ Petition ( Civil ) 5232/2007 should be implemented in letter and spirit in which the orders of the Supreme Court dated 20/10/2023 recommending payment of ex-gratia amount of Rs 30 lakh in case of death should be implemented.
  • The jury also recommended that those who die while at work should be compensated immediately without any delay. The jury also requested that it be increased to Rs 1 crore.
  • The jury has asked to provide ESI and identity cards to all labourers in all areas. Apart from this, scholarships should be made available in educational institutions for the children of sewer workers.

The union leaders decided to approach the CEO of Delhi Jal Board on Friday with these recommendations, and the employees have decided that until they get their due wages and jobs back, they would gather at DJB Varnalaya. 

This public hearing was organised by Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM), Municipal Workers Lal Jhanda Union (CITU), Delhi Jal Board Sewer Department Mazdoor Sangathan, All DJB Employees Welfare Association, Jal - Mal Kamgar Sangharsh Morcha, Delhi Jal Board Employees Union, Sewerage and Allied Workers Forum (SSKM), National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers (NCDRSAW), People's Media Advocacy and Resource Center (PMARC), Vimarsh Media and Magadh Foundation.

People holding responsible positions in the government often defer matters to each other. In the past years, the employees of Delhi have been stuck between the Delhi Government and the Lieutenant Governor. In this case, the Delhi government minister said that the officers are not giving funds to the Jal Board.

Delhi's cabinet minister had written a letter to the LG saying, "On the orders of the Chief Secretary, Finance Secretary Ashish Chandra Verma has withheld funds since August. If immediate intervention is not made, Delhi will have a water shortage."

Atishi has noted, "The total budget of Delhi Jal Board for the year 2023-24 for sewer and water works, salaries of employees and other works is approved at Rs 4839.5 crore. The Finance Department released the first instalment of Rs 1598 crore in May. Approval was given to release. In this, Rs 1300 crore fund was released for sewer work, and Rs 298 crore fund was released for water supply work. Out of the first instalment of Rs 1598 crore, Rs 910 crore is still outstanding. The second instalment of the budget will also be released by October. It should be released, but the entire fund of the first instalment has not been received yet."

Due to the non-availability of funds, on November 17, the contractors of the Jal Board also announced that they would stop work. 

Union leader Virendra Gaur said, "The union will continue its struggle because it is a question of the fundamental rights of the employees. We will meet the CEO of the main employer, Delhi Jal Board, regarding the demands of the workers, and if the matter is not resolved soon, we will surround Varunalaya Bhawan, the headquarters of the Jal Board."

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