Nearly a lakh of workers employed by Delhi’s three municipal corporations – North, South, and East – along with the retired staff have resorted to an indefinite strike alleging discrimination by the civic bodies in clearing their pending dues.
Tuesday, November 10, marks the second day of the work strike by staffers including engineers, teachers, horticulture workers, labourers, along with a section of Class D workers as well as the administrative staff and pensioners. The strike was called by the Confederation of MCD Employees Union, an umbrella body representing the employees from all the three municipal corporations.
A demonstration was staged on Tuesday at the MCD Civic Centre, which saw participation of many protestors. Besides, protests were also held at the zonal offices of the civic bodies and the work sites by many workers who abstained from performing their duties.
A P Khan, convenor of the Confederation, told Newsclick that while almost all of the agitating workers have only received their salaries till July, the pensioners have not been paid since the past six months. “We have been registering our protest against this for many months. Now, Diwali is right around the corner and the issue remains unresolved. In such a situation, we were forced to go on an indefinite strike,” he said.
Khan added that a meeting with the mayors of the three municipal corporations, convened last week on Saturday, failed to reach an amicable solution. “They wanted time till November 30 to address our grievances. However, given the urgency of the matter, it was not possible,” Khan said.
All the three civic bodies are currently controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
He contended that while employees of all the civic bodies are protesting, the situation is “worst” in the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC). As early as in June this year, the NDMC had informed the Delhi High Court, which was then hearing a petition demanding payment of salaries to teachers, that its overall pending liabilities have crossed Rs. 1000 crore – a first time in the history of the civic body.
Jai Prakash, Mayor, North DMC told NewsClick that out of the 55,000 workers – of all cadres – employed by the civic body, salaries up to September have been disbursed to 40,000 of them. “These include the doctors, nurses, paramedic employees and sanitation workers,” he said, confirming that teachers under North DMC have only been paid their salary for July recently.
Resultantly, those who have received their salaries till September, did not partake in the indefinite strike action.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Prakash informed NewsClick that he has called Khan for a meeting at 3 pm on the same day to request calling off the strike. He added, “After the strike is called off, we [North DMC] shall also release the July salaries of the remaining 10,000-12,000 employees, along with two months pension to the retired staff. We have also assured the workers that their August salaries will be paid after Diwali.”
Similarly, mayors of the other two civic bodies have reportedly claimed that they have cleared dues of a section of their employees till September.
Until recently, resident doctors and healthcare workers at Hindu Rao Hospital, that is run by the NDMC, and NDMC Medical College were on strike over non-payment of salaries. This had struck chord with more health centres under the DMC. The strike started on October 23 and ended on October 28 only after the salaries up to the month of September this year were agreed to be paid to doctors of all hospitals and health units under the NDMC.
Deepak Sharma, executive member of the Confederation leading the employees’ strike, told NewsClick that even though the development was welcoming, “it felt like it was discriminatory towards other employees whose salaries have also been delayed.”
Likewise, Khan alleged that the municipal officials may have “diverted” the funds that were meant for the payment of salaries of other employees “after coming under pressure from the doctors’ strike.”
A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad had reportedly directed the three corporations in September to chart out a policy for equal disbursal of funds among all cadres of their workers. And for the same reasons, as Deepak Sharma said, the striking employees are not just demanding their pending salaries but are also \ pressing the civic bodies to adhere to the High Court directions.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) DMC-incharge Durgesh Pathak, while accusing the BJP of delaying salaries to “1.25 lakh” DMC employees, said, “The MCDs (municipal corporations) in Delhi have been run by the BJP for the last 14 years. Only financial mismanagement and corruption can be the reason behind the current situation, where the civic body does not even have money left to pay salaries of its employees.”
In a press conference held on Tuesday, the AAP leader had also alleged diversion of funds, to the tune of Rs. 221 crore, by the DMC. The fund, collected from 34,000 retired staff as part of a “cashless insurance” policy, was meant to provide free health facilities to the beneficiaries at the private hospitals, according to Pathak.
Meanwhile, Pavan Bansal, vice president, Akhil Dilli Prathmik Shiksha Sangh (ADPSS), rued that paying July salaries before Diwali was not enough. “The amount paid now is mostly going to be used up in the payments relating to loans, school fees and rent among others,” he explained, adding that what is needed is that the civic body “at least” clears salaries till September.
Himself a teacher, who spoke to NewsClick over phone from a DMC-run school in Rohini, Bansal said that even though his organisation has not participated in the strike, “moral support” has been extended to the agitating employees. The ADPSS was among the petitioners that had earlier approached the High Court over dues to the 9,000-odd teachers with the NDMC.
He added that the demand for on-time salary payments is the least that can be done, especially when the functioning of the schools have not been affected as yet.