Sanitation crisis looms over east Delhi this Diwali as worker unions go on strike
The Capital’s eastern suburbs are staring at a civic crisis as hundreds of municipal sanitation workers announced on Tuesday to strike work, a move that could overrun roads and neighbourhoods with mounds of rotting garbage this Diwali.
The Swachhta Karamchari Union, which calls itself the biggest worker union of East Delhi Municipal Corporation with 11,000 members, called an indefinite strike from Wednesday over non-payment of salaries, bonus, and arrears due from 2003.
“The repeated financial crisis shows the inefficiency of the civic agency in running the system. This time there will be an infinite strike unless all financial issues are sorted out,” said Sanjay Gehlot, president of the association.
The rival Swatantra Majdoor Sayunkt Morcha, a union with members in the city’s three municipal corporations, also announced a strike from October 16.
The protest raised fears of a repeat of the crisis this January when a strike by 16,000 municipal employees brought the national capital on the brink of a civic lockdown and sparked fears of disease.
Roads and residential areas were strewn with waste and a putrid smell shrouded east Delhi that produces 2,800 tonnes of garbage daily.
“No matter where and how the funds are arranged, we want our pending salaries, bonus, arrears and cashless medical insurance for employees. The EDMC needs at least Rs 2,000 crores to fulfill these demands,” Gehlot said.
The corporation has not paid its sanitation workers since September.
Mayor Neema Bhagat called their demands legitimate. “We are trying to convince them to stop the strike and cooperate with the corporation so that the area remains neat and clean during the festival,” she said.
The cash-strapped agency is reeling from a huge budgetary deficit since the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was trifurcated in 2011. It has failed to pay salaries regularly, triggering six strikes in three years.
The civic crisis is often caught up in political stink. The three corporations are controlled by the BJP and the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government accuses rival party councilors of siphoning off funds meant for salaries. The BJP denies the charges.
The strike in January was called off after 11 days when the Delhi government released funds.
“We will meet the finance secretary on Wednesday and ask the Delhi government to release the amount and deduct it from the quarterly grant,” EDMC commissioner Ranbir Singh said.
According to him, the civic agency has started releasing salary to sanitation workers on its rolls, but additional funds will be needed to pay daily wage earners and other employees.
Singh had said on October 5 that he has asked the Delhi government to give Rs 200 crore to pay salaries and bonuses before Diwali.
The festival of lights falls on October 19 this year.