'Karo ya Maro': Final Strike of DBC Workers Amid 5-year High in Delhi’s Dengue Cases
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Delhi: Around 3500 Domestic Breeding Checker (DBC) workers have been protesting outside the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s Civic Centre, demanding regularisation of their jobs as promised by the body in March 2022.
The breeding checkers are vital for the city's efforts to fight diseases like Dengue, Malaria, etc. They visit homes to detect mosquito larvae breeding, which is crucial in fighting vector-borne diseases.
The story of DBC workers protesting is not a new one. It has been a long withstanding demand that has gone unheard by the authorities. Their struggle can be traced back to 1996 when Delhi had seen a massive rise in cases of Dengue, resulting in over 400 deaths. That is when DBC workers were first appointed. This time, the workers suggest it is their last protest, and they will not settle for verbal assurances anymore.
Two months before July 31 this year, the Anti-Malaria Ekta Karamchari Union had submitted a notice to the Municipal Health Office (MHO) stating that they should be regularised in their jobs or else they would start a strike starting July 31. The workers say they have been working in a contractual manner with no paid leaves or additional benefits that a regular employee gets. They want to be regular employees in a job that most of them have been doing for over 25 years, ever since the inception of Dengue in the National Capital.
As alleged by the workers, it was not until July 30 that the authorities from the MHO called them for a meeting. Even there, just like in 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2022, they were verbally assured that the MCD would work towards their cause and give them a permanent job as promised. However, this time the workers did not take the authority's word for an answer as they had already done so in the past, and the result was not in their favour.
This year, in July, the National Capital alone saw 121 cases of Dengue, which is an all-time high in the last five years. While the workers are on strike, the MCD house yesterday was adjourned within 15 minutes after a fierce verbal battle between the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While the BJP is currently raising the issues of the DBC workers and demanding their regularisation, it is important to note that until last year, these demands were not being met by the BJP either. Before coming to power, even the AAP had assured these workers that they would come to their rescue, but nothing has been done yet.
The workers started with salaries of Rs 1700 a month, and in 2023, their pay is only Rs 15,000 a month. Their primary work is checking, surveying, and recording the presence of Dengue door to door, from houses to the water tanks, and providing remedies accordingly. But post-monsoon, their role changes, and they are appointed in jobs of Property Tax collection, at the State highways and toll booths, among others. They even assist doctors in clinics and hospitals.
Until 2004, even this was not the case. From 1996 to 2004, the DBC workers’ only job was during the season when Dengue and malaria were widespread. After this, they would be unemployed for the next couple of months. In 2004, after an order from the Delhi High Court, the authorities were compelled to give them full-time jobs based on the seniority of the workers, wherein they would be involved in several field jobs. However, this further complicated the situation.
Speaking to NewsClick, Indraj Kaushik, Vice President of the Anti-Malaria Ekta Karmchari Union, said, "As per the regularisation in jobs, we were given only one break in a year on April 1, and the rest 364 days were working where they made us do several other jobs." What was lost in the process was them being regular employees. Year after year, the workers kept protesting, but they were not granted permanent positions. "Our demands were simple, give us any Constitutional post per our jobs. There are around 1,800 posts vacant for field workers today. Why can't they fill those posts by giving them to our senior colleagues? Moreover, every year, people are retiring as well. Those posts can be filled if there is a will," added Kaushik.
The workers say they have laboured relentlessly, even during the pandemic. "We were given garlands, flowers, and people banged plates for us, but were we given the post that we rightly deserved? Were we given salaries that we deserved? We are never even paid on time. Even today, our salaries are three months delayed. On July 22, we received a month's salary, but the salaries of the previous two months are still pending," said Suman, a woman DBC worker.
The workers allege that they received no extra benefit throughout the pandemic either. None of them seemed to believe that the money deducted from their accounts in the name of PF and ESI was being added to their accounts. "Our PF Accounts have no money to date. The account is empty. Our ESI card is not functional. Whenever we take our ESI cards for medical checkups, we are told that this cannot be used without stating any relevant reason," Suman said.
Amid the added problems, the biggest is the low salaries that the workers have been getting for the longest time. For families with multiple breadwinners, things are comparatively better, but things are much more difficult for those who are the sole earning members of their families.
Until January 2023, Puran Singh had to travel around 25 km to his workplace. A few years back, he injured his leg while travelling to the work area in a state bus and has had a partial disability in walking since then. "Although I have a problem with my leg, I never complained about my duty. My condition is such that I have not paid the house rent for three months now. I am in heavy debt, and when my salary does not come on time, the whole family suffers, including my young children and old parents," Singh said. Several times, he said, notices have been issued from his son’s school asking him to pay the fee or else the child would be rusticated. Singh has somehow managed the situation so far, but he said the water has now gone above his head.
According to Singh, he was not given any salary when he could not travel to his workplace for two months as the buses were not operational during the pandemic. Further, he alleged that salaries were given to employees from the South and East Districts of Delhi while not being able to join, but many from the North District did not receive them. He filed applications and reached out to his superiors regarding this, but all in vain.
The workers are staging their final battle. This time, they say they are ready to die but will not leave the protest site until their demands are met.
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