Impasse continues as BJP-ruled MCDs clash with AAP

The Kejriwal government refuses to budge, says BJP mayors can sit outside CM’s office for as long as they want. Going into the intricacies of funds transfers, AAP does seem to be in the right

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) Mayors have taken the blame game to the next level, sitting outside Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s home now for the eighth day – demanding they be paid their due amount of Rs 13,000 crore.

The AAP-led Delhi government maintains it owes the MCD nothing. Its leader and in-charge of the party’s MCD affairs, Durgesh Pathak tells us the mayors’ ‘dharna’ is to ‘save face’ and “ to shift the blame for their inability to even pay their employees salaries and pension to the retired”. Taking a dig at the mayors’ stance that they wouldn’t budge until they were given their dues, Pathak said they were free to sit for as long as they wished outside the CM’s home, as it is a free country.

Mayors of the three BJP-led municipal corporations – North, South and East MCDs – have now started clearing pending files from their makeshift offices from outside the chief minister’s residence, as the court asked the government and the municipal bodies must straighten out the matter with dialogue.

Resident Doctors of Kasturba Hospital protest during their strike in October. Employees of the municipalities say the BJP administration at the centre and of the MCD, and the AAP-led Delhi government has made the matter of their salaries into a political game Credit: Getty Images

North MCD employees have especially suffered, with many hospitals and schools falling under its jurisdiction. It has seen many agitations held against it in the past few months by doctors and nurses, and housekeeping staff, amongst others. Even its administrative staff had gone on a strike which was called off after the North Mayor Jai Prakash promised one-month salary and pension to be released before Diwali and one-month salary along with bonus and pension to be paid after. The corporation had also agreed to clear all remaining dues by 30 November.

AP Khan, convenor Confederation of MCD Employees Union tells Patriot they will consider going on “some form of protest” again, as the promises made have not been adhered to. “Four months of salary is still pending for employees, and pensioners haven’t received their income for seven months. Now they are playing their politics. BJP is blaming AAP and they in-turn are blaming BJP but we are not getting a solution. Employees are facing a tough time, and the situation keeps worsening.”

AP Khan, convenor Confederation of MCD Employees Union says will consider going on “some form of protest” again, as the promises made to them have not been adhered to Credit: Getty Images

He claims there are over 23,000 pensioners who have not received their pension since May; and 55,000 employees who have not received their salaries of the past four months. “There are 13 cases in the High Court which till now have not been resolved.”

On 5 November, the Delhi High Court bench comprising Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice Subramonium Prasad said that while the court could look into the non-payment of salaries and pension of the civic employees, it would not examine and conclude as to who was at fault. “We do not propose to mediate between the Government agencies; nor can this court be expected to examine the budgetary allocation done by the Central Government vis-a-vis Delhi Government and Delhi Government vis a-vis the Civic authorities to arrive at any conclusion as to which particular Agency is at fault.”

The employees of the North MCD whom we have spoken to on many accounts, have stopped short of putting the blame on any one party or authority. Instead, they express grievance with the political slugfest which is holding their pay cheque hostage.

Milind Mhaske, director at Praja Foundation, a Mumbai-based think tank, says that when it comes to local governments the stand is “I don’t care who isn’t giving it, I haven’t got it”. “The autonomy of administrative forces is critical for good governance. The need for empowering elected representatives is essential through financial management, local autonomy, giving adequate resources…The central government has not transferred enough funds to other states either but the only reason it doesn’t get blown up there, but does here is due to the political discourse.”

In fact, in its report on ‘Urban Governance Index’, Praja ranked Delhi 13, scoring it 33.80 out of 100. It studied urban governance reforms over three years (2017-2020) in 40 cities across 28 states and the national capital region of Delhi. Why this report makes sense in this tussle is its various indicators of governance measures which includes its ‘Empowered City Elected Representatives and Legislative Structure’, where Delhi scored a rank of a lowly 21 out 30.

Mhaske believes the structure of administration itself is flawed, and only once it is changed can one hold the concerned authorities accountable. “Once you’ve created the government, you pass on the function and the funds. This is basic but across the country this is something we have not appreciated enough. This happens between the Centre and the states and the local administration.”

“Another thing which is important is transparency, with budget and account details. This is not there; you’ll get the audit report for an old budget (for the municipal corporations). Like any corporate account which uploads by June, why can’t the corporations do the same? How much MCDs manage themselves and from other funds should be known”.

The transparency of funds would be key to understanding who is at fault for the plight of the employees.

Who owes whom

This political back and forth has been going on for months if not years – but what has become worse now is the delay in payments which has now stretched for months, and is sometimes blamed on Covid’s effect on revenue.

In a case in the Delhi High Court on 29 September, an order noted that Avnish Ahlawat, Standing Counsel for the Delhi government, said they had released a sum of Rs 98.35 crore in favour of the North MCD on 3 September towards grant-in-aid, which would cover the months of September and October 2020.

Prior to this on 1 September, the same bench in its order noted that the standing council, states that grants-in-aid of Rs147.50 crore payable for the months of April, May and June were released to the North MCD through RTGS and for the months of July-August, another sum of Rs.98.35 crore was released. This disputed the claim of North MCD Standing Council, Divya Prakash Pande, who stated that the Delhi Government “may be directed to release the grants-in-aid for the month of June 2020 which as per him, has yet to be released.”

In the 5 November order of the Delhi High Court referred to previously, the bench clubbed three writ petitions of grievances relating to non-payment of salaries to the employees in different cadres working in the North, South and East as well as three filed by retired employees. It went on to note that the civic authorities blamed the Delhi Government for it.

Deputy CM Sisodia had said in June that Delhi’s tax collection had reduced by about 85 per cent, and was concerned about their own ability to pay employees Credit: Getty Images

“It is their stand that Government of NCT of Delhi has squeezed them of funds and not released the Grant-in-Aid etc. due to which the salaries/pension could not be released to the employees/retired employees”. The order then went on to mention that this claim was “vehemently refuted” by Satyakam, Additional Standing Counsel for Government of NCT, “who states that just as a dip in the revenue collection has hit the Civic authorities, it has equally hit the Government of NCT of Delhi. Government of NCT of Delhi expects the Union of India to release funds to it which as per Mr.Satyakam, learned ASC is to the tune of over Rs 10,000 crore.”

The figure of over Rs 10,000 crore has now become Rs 12,000 crore which the AAP government says is on account of the funds that the central government gives to state governments municipalities. While this is true, that funds are based on the states’ population – for every person residing in the city, Rs 488 per head is given as municipal development fund, the Central Finance Commission does not cover Delhi (or other Union Territories).

This was noted in the report from last year for the 15th Finance Commission titled ‘Finances of Municipal Corporations in Metropolitan Cities of India’ which said that a grant of Rs 2.87 lakh crore is given to state governments of which Rs 87,144 crore is meant for municipalities. “In this study”, it went on to say, “we have analysed the finances of Municipal Corporations that govern these cities apart from National Capital Territory of Delhi which is a Union Territory and is not covered by the Central Finance Commission”.

The Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said in 2019 that the government of Delhi was receiving only grants in lieu of share in central taxes, which had been kept stagnant at Rs 325 crore since 2001-02, while all other States get an enhanced share in central taxes every year.

He had also stated in June of this year of their own concern for their ability to pay its employees, including health care workers and teachers, stating that Delhi’s tax collection had reduced by about 85 per cent. It had gone on to ask the centre for Rs 5,000 crore for immediate help in paying salaries.

“We reviewed the Delhi government’s revenue and its minimum expenses. We need around Rs 3,500 crore every month just to pay salaries and bear office expenses. In the last two months, GST collection was Rs 500 crore each and combining that with other sources, the government has Rs 1,735 crore,” Sisodia had said.

At the same time the Delhi Government had in 2019 accepted the recommendations of the Fifth Delhi Finance Commission (DFC), ensuring more funds for the MCDs. The government said it would give 12.5% of its total tax collection to the city’s five civic bodies.

Delhi Cabinet minister Satyender Jain had described how the percentage of funds would be divided, with “Six per cent will be broken down into 3% each. Of this 3%, EDMC will receive 65% and 35% will go to the North MCD. The other 3% will be meant for all the local bodies, including the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB). The remaining 6.5% of the 12.5% will be devolved to the local bodies through budgetary provisions of different departments”.

With income affected, the Delhi Government maintains it has given its fair share to the municipalities, and the Centre in fact was the one who had to pay up. It also blamed the municipal corporations of corruption, consequently finding itself bereft of money. The newest allegation is that the north DMC waived Rs 2,500 crore rent dues of the South MCD.

AAP’s Pathak said there needs to be focus drawn to the allegations of what the North MCD has been doing. “There has been corruption at every step. The dengue fumigation spray, the corporation bought for Rs 3,600 per kg while in Bhopal they bought it for Rs 2,300. From this itself you can see how they perform. They have ruined Delhi in the 15 years since being in power.”

Mhaske believes the political back and forth stems from political immaturity, and the lack of dialogue between stakeholders. “The funds first come to the state government and then to the local government. If you take Mumbai or Kochi or Bangalore for example, the state government transfers a significant amount of its own resources. In a way the government in Delhi, is just an intermediary, it doesn’t create its funds to disperse, unlike in Bengal, Kerala, or Maharashtra. So largely, in Delhi’s case the financial transfers are coming from the central government.”

(Cover: Mayors of Delhi protesting outside the residence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanding immediate release of funds they say is owed to them  /Credit: Getty Images)

 

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