DJB: Unions Demand Roll-Back of Action Against Meter Readers, Blame IT Major for Billing Faults
Nine unions came together and staged a demonstration outside DJB headquarters on Tuesday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra
New Delhi: A commitment by the government to work toward transparency is welcome, but not when the steps taken to achieve this involve calling for strict action against those who are “innocent”.
This is what the unions representing employees of Delhi Jal Board (DJB) argued, as they staged a demonstration outside the headquarters of the national capital’s water utility on Tuesday to protest against the suspension of 10 water meter readers and termination of 20 outsourced employees.
The state government agency took action against the said workers earlier this month after the latter were allegedly found to be taking wrong meter readings thereby, resulting in erroneous billings for numerous water consumers in the city.
Purported to be the first-of-its-kind action by the state water utility, since its constitution back in 1998, against its workers for alleged incorrect readings, the controversial move was made only days after DJB chairman Satyendar Kumar Jain announced a revision of the billing system, under which water consumption bills are issued to city residents.
After the pandemic-induced lockdown, there was a surge in complaints of high water bills to DJB. According to media reports, the main reason cited for inflated water bills was incorrect meter readings, which prompted the state water utility to rectify the bills of high amounts and introduce random metre reading image auditing system by the revenue officers.
Issuing the order for the same earlier this month, Jain, who is currently in charge of the water portfolio in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)–led Delhi Government, reportedly said that DJB was committed to working toward transparency.
On Tuesday, however, nine workers’ unions, including those associated with AAP, namely, Shramik Vikas Sangathan, flayed the DJB administration for taking action against the workers. According to them, it is not the workers who are to blame for billing discrepancies, but the revenue management system itself, currently managed by Wipro, a Bengaluru-based IT major.
“The workers, wrongly suspended and terminated by DJB, are innocent,” Virendra Gaur of the CITU-affiliated Municipal Workers’ Lal Jhanda Union, told Newsclick on Tuesday. “The discrepancies that are cited in billing by the administration is the fault of the Wipro and its online services.”
Yashpal Yadav of the AITUC-affiliated Delhi Jal Board Karamchari Union said DJB has taken action against the workers to “save the Wipro company” and its online services. Yadav alleged that after the random metre reading image auditing system was introduced, many among the meter readers had complained about difficulties in uploading the images on the system.
DJB employs 900 meter readers, along with another 300 who are employed by an outsourced private agency. “Instead of looking into their complaints, the DJB [after conducting an audit of meter reading images earlier in December] took action against the workers itself. This is wrong and the unions will not keep quiet,” Yadav added.
On December 13, DJB issued an order to suspend 10 meter readers. Among these is Hari Om, who works in the Narela Zone, who said he was suspended “without any intimation or warning” by the water utility.
“I was not even given any proper reason as to why I was being suspended. Nor have they now told me till when I can’t join my services,” the 53-year-old, who claimed to be a heart patient, told Newsclick.
Likewise, numerous show cause notices were issued on the same day by DJB to its respective outsourced companies, which are engaged for online spot reading, capturing the image of water meter, billing, distribution of bills on bi-monthly basis and other activities.
The notice, signed by Akriti Sagar, Director (Revenue), DJB, carried names of the meter readers who were to be terminated, while demanding a response from the private agency over why action should not be initiated against it. It also said that an FIR would be lodged against the outsourced meter readers.
An outsourced meter reader, against who an FIR “for cheating and forgery” has been requested by DJB to be lodged, told Newsclick on Tuesday that “severe actions” taken by the water utility are “unfair”.
“I don’t even want my job back, even though I know that I am terminated for no fault of mine. But I would only request right now that the FIR against me is taken back because it will also ruin the chances of me getting any job in the future,” the man in his 20s, who refused to be named, said.
Newsclick tried to reach DJB’s Akriti Sagar on Tuesday for comments, but calls made to her went unanswered. A Wipro official declined to comment over allegations against the IT major.
In its complaint dated December 17, the Samyukt Morcha, an umbrella body of DJB workers’ unions, urged the government agency to roll back its orders and immediately conduct an inquiry into “negligence” on the part of the Wipro. They also demanded that the IT major, which is engaged in managing water utility services in other Indian states as well, be “blacklisted”.
Gaur on Tuesday also threatened that DJB employees would gherao the residence of Satyender Jain in the coming days, if the unions’ demands were not addressed.
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