The local municipal council employees have not been paid for the last two months, after the state government diverted the allotted grant-in-aid amount to the electricity department as payment of the civic body's pending Rs 10crore bill.
The MC is now facing acute shortage of funds and is unable to pay salary and pension to its employees, who allege that pensioners have not been given their dues for five months.
In July, 2012, the state electricity board had disconnected the power supply to all streetlights in the MC area for 18 days due to non-payment of bills, shrouding the town in darkness. Local activist Lakshmender Guleria had filed a petition in the Himachal Pradesh high court, seeking that the issue be resolved soon as it had raised security concerns, following which, the court ordered restoration of the power supply and payment of the outstanding amount in installments.
However, as the MC failed to raise its income and collect the outstanding amount from the defaulting shopkeepers, the state government decided to divert the grant-in-aid to pay the bill, leaving the MC unable to pay salary and pension and bringing development work to a halt.
"Every employee, from sweeper to officer, is performing his duties honestly and we have knocked on all doors to ensure that salaries are given. However, all authorities are passing the buck to other departments. It is difficult to survive without salary and pension," said Kuldeep Thakur, state president of the local urban bodies employees' union.
He added that the "helpless" sweepers and other staff had performed their duties diligently during the week-long Shivratri fair, but were finding it difficult to arrange food, clothes and other necessities and pay their water and electricity bills. "Some employees approached me and asked me to ask the ration shop owner to give them ration on credit on the assurance that the MC will pay their salaries later," he added.
Lakshmender Guleria, who raised the issue in 2012, alleged that the MC councilors, at a meeting in 2004, had decided not to pay the `4crore power bill, and the amount accrued to `10 crore over the next six years.
"The councilors have betrayed the people who had elected them as their representatives," he added.
Guleria said the state government should have initiated an inquiry into the decision taken by the councilors, and the 'extra' amount of While interpreting the provisions of the Right to Information Act, the Himachal High Court has held that public authorities are bound to disclose annual confidential reports (ACRs) to the employees concerned and denial thereof is bad in law. The court observed that while dealing with an issue that involves disclosure of names of the reporting officer, first and second review/accepting authority and the authors of the annual confidential reports, the information officers are bound to provide such information.
6 crore should be charged from the councillors responsible for the situation.
MC chairperson denies Guleria's allegations
Refuting Guleria's accusations, MC chairperson Sushila Saunkhla clarified that the decision not to pay the the bill was taken because the electricity department was charging commercial rates for the streetlights, though their use was not a commercial activity.
"We are still corresponding with the electricity department and the state government over the issue, but the department authorities did not respond. The state government decided to divert the whole fund amount without consulting us. It should have diverted 50% of the amount or issued a special grant for payment of salaries and pension.