Delhi’s MCD Workers on Strike

The capital is back to being held ransom by disgruntled staff of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) as it enters the 11th day of the strike on account of non-payment of salaries.

For 11 days now, it’s been the people of Delhi who have been suffering stockpiles of garbage and filth that striking workers of MCD have refused to clear. People using NH24 and Vikas Marg have been particularly hit with garbage piling up on roads and crossings, hindering free flow of traffic.

With risk of an epidemic breaking out, it’s the citizens of the capital who are caught up between an unending war between the staff of MCD and the AAP-run Delhi government. The strike has impacted the functioning of hospitals that are run by MCD, and with each passing day, the risk of an epidemic outbreak increases.

Staff of NDMC and EDMC have extended support to the striking workers and have also threatened to join the strike from 10 February.

Exacerbating the existing problem, the Municipal Corporation Teacher’s Association (MCTA) have also gone on strike, affecting the course completion schedule of thousands of students. Several members of the MCTA have been holding demonstrations outside Shahdara South Education Zonal Office.

The teachers apparently entered the premises and locked the gates to prevent corporation staff from entering or leaving. Their main grouse was aimed at a circular issued by the corporation asking teachers not to go on strike or suspend classes.

The Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been very vocal as usual, in condemning the striking workers and called the strike a political vendetta being instigated by BJP, which actually controls the MCD.

The cause and government response

MCD workers have been accusing the Delhi government of delays in payment of salaries. In October, the same staff had taken to strike for the same reason and held the city to ransom. At that time, the salaries actually had not been paid for some time and was causing hardship for all staff of MCD.

However, this time, as per the Delhi government’s contention, salaries up to December 2015 had been cleared and only January salaries were due. In fact, the three civic bodies have confirmed the same to Delhi High Court that the salaries up to December 2015 had indeed been paid. Therefore, the Delhi government seemed right in questioning the motive of the striking workers.

But now the workers are saying that their struggle is not for salaries alone, but they are fighting for unification of corporations as a permanent solution.

High Court’s observation

The High Court has taken due note of the rising problem of garbage piling up on the streets and the associated health risks to citizens, and has called for the unions to withdraw their strike.

Earlier in the week, a plea was filed in the Supreme Court seeking its intervention but the apex court turned down the plea saying it was within Delhi High Court’s jurisdiction to intervene.

Meanwhile, on 2 February, officials from MCD told High Court that they did not have any funds left to clear salaries for January or the coming months.

This was strongly contested by the AAP-run Delhi government that has stated that all funds had been released to MCD and called for a CBI-led investigation to find out what happened to the funds released.

LG steps in with loan offer

The Lieutenant Governor (LG) Naseeb Jung appealed to the striking workers to call off their strike. He also offered a loan of Rs 551 crore from Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to East and North Delhi Corporations, to ease the immediate problem. While the MCD may decide to take up the offer, both DDA and MCD must seriously ponder over how the loan will get repaid and over what period.

The Mayors of East, North and South met with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and informed him that the Corporation was willing to accept Rs 551 crore as a grant and not as a loan. They further demanded an additional Rs 360 crore as an immediate interim relief.

They also wanted the Delhi government to accept and implement the recommendations of the 4th Finance Commission to ensure a long term solution. Though non-committal, Manish Sisodia said his government was open to discussing the same.

The larger question

Repeatedly, the Delhi government seems to be at loggerheads with the LG, Delhi Police, various civic bodies and the Centre, and the genesis of the problem seems to be in how the Delhi government is constitutionally structured with limited powers and authority over the functioning of the capital, especially law and order.

That said, the problem of political tug-of-war between the Delhi government, which was previously run by the Congress, and the traditionally BJP dominated civic bodies, has always existed but was handled politically without the citizens being held ransom.

The AAP government has failed to take lessons from the Congress in deft political handling of BJP, despite having overwhelming numbers in the legislative assembly, something the Congress never had. Politics will always play out between the ruling party and the opposition and this is true in most states of India, but it takes political maturity to handle emerging situations and not letting each crisis reach a boiling point. The AAP-run Delhi government must immediately reach out to the striking workers and ensure that the current strike ends.

Meanwhile, there must be greater accountability and transparency of funds utilization and spending by the civic bodies, so that the theatrics of accusation and counter-accusation amongst political parties comes to an end. And now would be a good time to start.