Municipal workers on Friday called off their strike over pending pay after lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung said R493 crore was released as east Delhi stared at a health crisis from heaps of garbage lying unattended during the 12-day standoff.
The money to cover around 15,000 striking sanitation workers’ salary dues of nearly two months was announced around the time the Delhi high court directed the Aam Aadmi Party government to pay the municipal employees by June 15.
The court issued notices to the Centre, the Delhi government and officials of the east Delhi corporation to take steps to remove the garbage, which was either dumped on major thoroughfares by miffed sanitation workers or had scattered from overflowing vats.
Before they ended their strike, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday morning stood by the workers and accused the Centre and Delhi government of passing the buck on each other.
The Congress leader — in blue denims and white kurta —sat on the ground with the safai karmacharis during a dharna at the East Delhi Municipal Corporation headquarters. “I am here with you ... if you want me to sit with you, I will sit for an hour, two hours or 10 hours ... I have time for you,” he said.
The BJP, which rules Delhi’s municipal corporations, described Gandhi’s solidarity with the sanitation workers as grandstanding. “Rahul Gandhi has gone there to show fake concern and is indulging in politics on this matter,” Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay said.
The workers have been agitating because the cash-strapped corporations have not been paid their salaries for months, in part because of the unending political recriminations between the Arvind Kejriwal government and lieutenant governor Jung.
Civic agency sources said the money announced on Friday would barely tide over the current crisis and it might return to haunt the corporations if more funds were not released, either by the AAP government or Centre.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said around R500 crore was released on Thursday to municipal corporations as he criticised the BJP-ruled civic agencies for appropriating the AAP government’s work as their own and that of the lieutenant governor’s.
His remarks came amid the BJP’s assertion that funds were released following efforts from corporation mayors. For future funding, the AAP government said, the civic agencies should go to the BJP-led Centre.
The workers returned to work by Friday evening and piles of garbage rotting on roads and bylanes, particularly in east Delhi, were removed. An east corporation spokesman said around 2,200 metric tonnes of garbage were generated every day on an average in the municipal area.
Sources said the putrid smell from the roads would go in a day or two, but the political stink would linger.