Bus marshals struggle to put food on their plates

- September 28, 2023
| By : Muhammad Tahir

DTC bus marshals, who were hired to protect female travellers, have not been paid for three months now and are struggling to make ends meet

Hundreds of disgruntled DTC bus marshals staged a protest recently at Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence and the Secretariat building demanding pending salaries. 

The marshals, comprising civil defence volunteers and home guards, had been inducted by the Transport Department, GNCTD in the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses in 2015 to ensure safety of women as well as smooth operation of the bus service. 

However, on September 18, the marshals sat down in demonstration against the apparent lack of government apathy to their condition. 

“Without salary, I have not been able to pay my daughters’ school fees for the last three months. The school administration keeps reminding me every week to pay the dues,” Anand Kumar, a bus marshal, told Patriot while showing the message from school, demanding fee dues, on his mobile phone.

While Kumar hasn’t received his salary for three months now, some of the other home guards haven’t received salaries for five months. Most of the marshals though have not received salaries from July to September.

HIGHLIGHTING PROBLEM: A pamphlet, showing their pain and agony, distributed by the marshals during protest

“I have two kids. Their education and other family expenses are very high. I can’t even pay the room rent now. I have borrowed around 30,000 rupees to survive. The lender is asking me to return the money. How far will we survive without a salary and on borrowed money?” he said further.

Kumar had joined bus marshal duty in 2020. He alleged that they worked in very tough conditions during Covid-19 but weren’t paid accordingly.

“We were on duty in Corona without pay (nishkam sewa or voluntary service). We don’t have any mechanism for savings like Provident Fund (PF) and if we meet an accident on the road, then there is no claim for us,” lamented Kumar.

He recalls an incident from four months ago, when a marshal met with an accident and lost his leg. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get any medical benefit. 

“They pay us only 40 rupees per day as travel allowance. But for many of us, travel expenses for one way (between home and place of duty) are much more. We want them to pay not 40 rupees in allowance but instead make travel free for us in DTC buses.” 

Kumar, who is also looking for a permanent government job and is preparing for Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exam, said that the transport department is not helping them much.

“There is no help from our department. When we asked [them] about the salary they instantly responded, ‘jab fund aayega (whenever we receive the funds),” he says.

The 31-year-old pointed out that if they were so rich to survive without a salary for three months, then they wouldn’t have even taken up the service of bus marshal. 

The marshals, who work on contractual basis, are paid 844 rupees per day of work, which is around eight hours but can go up to 10 hours. 

They work 28 days a week and are entitled to two days of holiday. 

Some of them complained, however, that they often don’t get two days of rest.  

Another marshal who was having a meal around 7 pm on the bus said that he is surviving on his brother’s income as of now.

“This is the third straight month when we haven’t received our salaries. There are a lot of problems without salary. When we asked the department about it, they said that the government has not released funds, and only when it releases that we will pay. There are multiple problems in my family like shortage of ration and other necessities. I live in a joint family so my family is surviving on my brother’s salary. We need help,” said the marshal, who joined the service in 2019.

A marshal, who was selected during the first phase of recruitment in 2016, narrates an almost similar story. He lives on rent near Safdarjung. He is surviving without salary thanks to support from his family and relatives.

DEMAND: A letter written by bus marshals to finance minister, Atishi, demanding repayment of dues

“I live with my wife and two children on rent and our monthly expenses come to around Rs 15,000. My salary is stuck for three months. My savings have exhausted. My family and brother-in-law are supporting me. I have borrowed around Rs 60,000,” he told Patriot

He is worried about the lay-offs too.

“They don’t even consider us on proper duty but term our work as nishkam sewa (voluntary service). [Finance minister] Atishi said the fund will be released by September 12 but it wasn’t. They are even planning to fire us. The Delhi government said in court that they don’t need marshals now and are preparing bus drivers and conductors to handle matters related to safety.”

Around 15,000 civil defence volunteers and home guards work with Delhi government’s DTC and cluster buses. Their primary duty is to provide security to female passengers and save them from sexual or physical violence and related problems during the journey.

Some bus drivers and conductors complain that marshals don’t perform their duties properly and are also involved in wrongful activities or are busy on phone during duty hours. They also have evidence of their acts recorded on phone which they showed to this reporter.  

When Patriot asked the marshals about it, they denied the allegations and said that if one marshal has done something wrong, everyone cannot be blamed for it. 

One of the marshals alleged that many bus conductors and drivers also don’t behave well. 

“It doesn’t mean that we paint them all with one brush,” he said. 

A 28-year-old marshal, who is living with his family of five in Delhi is facing several problems since he is the lone bread-winner in his family. His father sells tea on a cart but the earnings have barely helped them survive.

Bahut hi zyaada financial problem hai sir (I am facing a huge financial crisis). I can’t even express the magnitude of the problems I am facing. We are unable to bear our household expenses. I have borrowed money to survive. I will have to also start other work, take up odd jobs, if there is no option left. They only give assurance but we can’t believe them as yet,” said the marshal, who lives on rent near Tikri Border.

Many marshals confided to Patriot that this is not the first time their wages have been delayed. Their salary was stuck prior to the MCD election and was released only after they lodged a protest against it. 

A marshal, who lives in Nangloi with his family, hasn’t paid two months’ rent. 

“I couldn’t pay two months’ room rent and the school fees of my three children. I am bearing a lot of stress. They had also held back salaries before the MCD election, and released them only after the protest,” he said while hoping that his three-month dues will be released soon.  

“Only when we protested, they promised to provide the update to us over the next two days. Unfortunately, no action was taken and we weren’t informed about anything. If they don’t release it, we will sit on protest once again.”

Harish, who is the head of the marshals, did not respond to several calls and messages from Patriot

PAY UP: Anand Kumar has receivied reminders to pay his daughter’s school fee

The state and central governments are blaming each other for this crisis.

The Delhi government had said in a statement that despite orders from minister Atishi, the bus marshals and civil defence volunteers have not received their salaries due to the lack of clarity on control of services in the national capital as per the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2023.

On the other hand, the BJP has blamed the AAP government for not releasing the salaries. 

BJP Delhi tweeted on the day after the protest in Hindi, “Huge anger among DTC employees against ineffective Kejriwal government.”

Patriot asked for a comment from the state government’s finance ministry. However, despite repeated requests on phone and through e-mail, there was no response from the officers.