Development at a standstill, five months without pay; Delhi’s municipalities reel under pressure as nursing staff at two government hospitals agitate for their dues
Complaints about the purported non-disbursal of funds by the AAP-led Delhi government have been circulating for a few months now. It has been accused of giving a small fraction of approximately Rs 4,000 crore to the three municipalities due in the first two quarters of financial year 2020-21. .
East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) mayor Nirmal Jain says they are unable to do any development work currently, adding that even salaries for their employees are now pending for two months.
“The Vidhan Sabha has passed the budget of (CM Arvind) Kejriwal sir; under that he has to give us money, which he hasn’t till now. He has given just Rs 94 crore out of Rs 1,050 crore, which means there is Rs 956 still to be given to us,” Jain tells Patriot.
EDMC presides over areas like Kondli, Vishwas Nagar, Ghonda and Jaffrabad, all places that desperately require civic services. On its official website can be found a notification of at least 26 tenders being cancelled in August “due to administrative reasons”.
AAP leader and MCD in-charge Durgesh Pathak tells Patriot that development work being affected due to a cash crunch is an excuse by the municipalities. “Even before Covid, tell me one road that can be taken as a model of cleanliness. They hardly do anything. Even a gully (lane) they can’t clean, not even a naali (drain).” Adding that the MCDs were deep in corruption.
But the Delhi government and the municipalities ruled by the BJP – the North MCD, South MCD and East MCD – agree that revenue has been deeply affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Delhi, revenue collection has reportedly dipped 53% in the past five months.
North MCD has made just 30% of its revenue since the lockdown, its Director of Press and Information, Yogender Singh Mann tells us. He goes on to say that finance is the big issue presently and there “are no two varying opinions on this” but adds that routine work is going on.
“Tenders have been outsourced, like for sanitation. We will float another one today, then for landfill sites tender will also be floated. A tender on parking leases has been floated. So, we are trying to do things for proper revenue generation. Even during the lockdown period 15% rebate time (on property tax) had passed, but we have extended that scheme so that people can give under this scheme. Plus, camps are being put in industrial areas so that we can get the tax from commercial properties; we are concentrating more on that.”
In fact, there have been several tenders floated in October, 70 according to a website called tendersniper, a portal dealing with government tenders. In total the tenders from October are worth approximately Rs 9 crore.
On the South DMC website, tenders are visible only till May. On the website tendersniper the last few were in March, before a lull with tenders again being floated from June till July 24th, with no tenders after that. All tenders stand “expired”.
Just as the EDMC mayor told us that development work was not taking place, and that the issue of unpaid salaries was his biggest priority – due for the past two months – the NDMC mayor Jai Prakash, when asked whether his plans for development while taking over the North MCD in June had materialised, said “No”.
He connected this developmental limbo to the fact that employees had still not been paid. In fact, employees in the North MCD have not been paid since June, making it the fifth month running without any money going into their bank accounts. Class D employees have received their salaries till June.
“Currently there’s only one plan: that is (to pay) employee salaries. Who will do the development work? The staff will, but if they don’t get their money, they will come to office, put their thumb impression and just relax the entire day. If you want your staff to work 100% then we must pay them on time. And the money will have to come from the Delhi government… they should be like the big brother, the big government. Give us our funds so that the people of Delhi do not face problems in getting essential services. During corona we worked, for fighting dengue we are working, air pollution we are working on.”
In March, the Delhi government tabled a budget of Rs 65,000 crore. According to the three civic agencies, of the Rs 3,928 crore (for the first two quarters), they have received just Rs 624 crore from the Delhi government so far.
But AAP’s Pathak while pointing to almost understanding why no new projects could be launched, nor new policies or tenders undertaken, says that the basic minimum of providing staff with their salaries is an onus lying squarely on the MCDs, “The very least that has to be done (by the municipalities) which would be just 10% of their spending, they can’t? Then shame on them”.
And while the MCDs keep on blaming the AAP’s non-cooperation in giving what’s due to them, Pathak says the Delhi High Court “scolded” the municipalities, adding if they did not agree with the court they had five months to revert to it. “Why have they not?”
When we bring up this point, NDMC’s Prakash says that the court was given the affidavit containing details of “how much money should have come, how much was required and how much was given. Our lawyers are fighting this matter well. But the Aam Aadmi Party does not remain Aam but Aarop (allegation) Party. They don’t work for the common man but just blame everyone else and lie everywhere, even in court.”
He goes on to say that the amount due under Basic Tax Assignment, which is to be given by the Delhi government, goes directly towards salaries but this is yet to be fulfilled. But he goes on to say, “What they gave us is not what pays for all the staff’s salaries. Rs 4,200 crore goes as salaries. The Delhi government gives us Rs 1,300-1,400 crore, in that Rs 300-400 is plan head money. We say we are going through a crisis, so give us the money under the BTA so that it can be useful to us. If you stop that money, our work will stop.”
And while this blame game continues, the employees we spoke with say it’s politics, and all they want is their pay. Anil Kumar, a clerical worker in NDMC, says that both the Delhi government and the BJP (which rules the MCD) must remember that “we are the ones who give them votes.”
Another employee, Mukesh Sharma, who happens to be the personal assistant of the mayor of NDMC, says that they will go on strike from December 1, because while the assurances of receiving their salary by November 30th has been made, they don’t believe it will happen. “I come every day and do my work, all that I have to do. But I will also demand what is my right and due to me.”
The employees here believe everyone forgets about them, even the media who show the plight of doctors but not theirs, the administrative workers who have been reeling under the pressure of having no income since May, eating into their savings.
We asked about his staff not receiving their salaries, to which Prakash conceded that the responsibility lay with him but also went on to point at the Delhi government’s dues once again.
Interestingly, Delhi government, represented by additional standing counsel Satyakam, had told the High Court in September that the Delhi government is yet to receive funds from the Centre out of the GST collection and therefore, it shall also be made a party in all the matters before the bench with regard to MCD employees’ salaries.
The court, thereafter, made the central government (also BJP ruled) a party in the case and listed all the matters for hearing on November 5.
Accused of discrimination
With non-payment of salaries being the biggest problem which the civic bodies are facing, on October 19, the NDMC mayor found himself facing the ire of the nurses and paramedic staff of the Kasturba Gandhi hospital. After having waited for hours at his office premises they finally got the chance to meet him and demand their pay – due since June. They wanted a minimum of two months to be ensured to them.
Early in October, doctors of Hindu Rao and Kasturba Gandhi hospitals came out in protest about non-payment of their salaries, with the two hospital’s doctors threatening mass resignation if their dues are not paid. Both hospitals come under the NDMC. Kejriwal’s AAP says the hospitals should be handed over to the Delhi government, as they believe the municipal corporation is unable to handle the job.
The nursing and paramedic staff, about 30 of them from Kasturba Hospital who were present at the mayor’s office were palpably upset over the way they have been treated, calling it “divide and rule” – with doctors having received their pay until July while they still await their pay from June, making it an agonising wait.
BL Sharma, president of the hospital nurses union, spoke about the constant anxiety of waiting for their salaries. “The moment there’s a text message notification on my phone, I immediately look at it, thinking it’s my bank notifying me about my salary.” But this message has not come since May.
The demand is that they be paid at least till the month of July, just like the doctors. “You have paid those who make Rs 3 lakh but not those who make Rs 30,000. How do you think we are managing?” Sharma asked the mayor, who tried convincing them that by Friday (October 23) they would receive at least a month’s salary. But this was met with angrier voices, unconvinced by the verbal assurance.
“You told us 15 days back that you would give us our salaries. Now we are not leaving without our pay. We have been hungry for the past five months but worked. Doctors, on the other hand, despite being given two month’s salary, go on strike so who can sacrifice more than us? It’s going to be five months now. I have come to know that doctors will be paid now till August, but we are still stuck with salaries not being paid from June. She (pointing to his colleague) whose husband has been bedridden for the past six months, is a single earning lady. She is a widow (pointing to another colleague) who has broken into her LIC (life insurance policy) to run her household.”
Sharma blamed it on the Centre, saying “(PM Narendra) Modi ji has neglected us”, to which the mayor responded “No, you are not forgotten”. They curtly responded, saying “We haven’t received our pay and yet you want us to believe we are not forgotten.”
Others spoke, one a single mother, another with their medical problems laying heavy on them along with no money coming in, many others with their loans and pending school fees of their children.
It seems incredible that in the middle of the worst pandemic in living memory, medical staff and municipal workers are deprived of their basic salary — and yet the Capital city is supposed to run smoothly. Who will fix accountability?
(Cover: Hindu Rao Hospital Doctors and nurses protest against North MCD administration over alleged non-payment of pending salaries, at Jantar Mantar // Credit: Getty)