East Delhi is staring at yet another sanitation crisis, the third in as many years, with over 16,000 workers threatening to go on an indefinite strike from Friday over non-payment of salaries, an issue caught up in political stink.
The protest threat triggered fears of a rerun of October’s 2015 and January 2016 strikes when piles of garbage on roadsides sparked fears of disease. Sanitation is the sole responsibility of the municipal bodies in over 96% of the national Capital.
Except South Delhi Municipal Corporation, both the North Delhi and East Delhi civic bodies had been running massive budgetary deficits and have survived on support from the Delhi government and the Centre ever since the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was trifurcated in 2012.
Hundreds of sanitation workers attached to the East Delhi Municipal Corporation threatened to stop lifting lifting garbage and cleaning the streets, demanding three months’ salaries and pending arrears besides regularisation of staff.
The strike is supported by employees’ unions represented by sanitation workers as well as Class IV and III employees. Official from health and horticulture department have also joined the strike.
On Thursday morning, the workers gathered outside headquarters and zonal offices and shouted slogans against the Delhi government and EDMC. The workers have decided to protest outside deputy chief minister’s office in Khichripur.
“We are fed up with the excuses given by EDMC officials every month for non-payment of salaries. It has been three months and we don’t know how to run our house,” said Sanjay Gehlot, president of MCD Swachh Karamchari Union (affiliated with the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh).
Blaming former chief minister Sheila Dikshit for the poor financial health of EDMC, Gehlot said the MCD was trifurcated in 2012 over political considerations. East Delhi, which used to benefit from the funds from the common pool, started suffering after the trifurcation when it had to generate its own revenues.
“Nearly 90% unauthorised colonies fall under EDMC jurisdiction. Merely 25% population in our areas pay property tax, which the major source of our income. The indifferent attitude of the Delhi government has only added to our woes,” he said.
A major political war had erupted over the sanitation crisis last year since the municipal bodies are ruled by the BJP and the AAP is in power in Delhi. This year too, the strike, if it happens, will assume political colours since municipal elections are schedule to be held in April.
The EDMC earns R 600 crore under the non-plan head of which R175 crore comes from property tax.
The employee unions have declared to gherao the state government ministers as well as MLAs living in east Delhi from Friday.
The east corporation alleged that the Delhi government pushed them into a financial crisis. “We need R350 crore to pay salary to the 16,000 sanitation workers and staff in other departments but we have no money. To fix the problem, our officials had requested Delhi government to release quarterly funds of R134 crore under the plan head a month in advance. Now, we are planning to meet the Chief Minister,” said Jitender Chaudhary, standing committee chairman, EDMC.
Chaudhary said they will also request the CM to implement the recommendations of the Fourth Pay commission.
In 2015, the sanitation workers of EDMC had gone on a strike. This resulted in unhygienic conditions in the civic area due to huge amount of undisposed filth in the streets. Angry protesters had also dumped garbage at busy crossings, leading to traffic jams.
The strike was ended after the Delhi High Court intervened and directed the municipal authorities to ensure lifting of garbage.