For the second time this year, the streets of East Delhi were inundated with garbage after sanitation workers of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) — unpaid for two months — went on strike. Soon after, workers of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North DMC) struck work. Only a Rs 513 crore bail-out package from the Delhi government ended the strike on June 12 and close to 4,000 tonnes of garbage were hastily swept off the roads.
This is the second such bail-out after a similar strike in March and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has warned there will not be a third and that the municipal corporations have to find a way of managing their revenues. The bail-out will clear salaries of only up to May 31.
The East Corporation runs a monthly salary bill of Rs 82 crore. From its annual budget of Rs 3,000 crore, the civic body needs at least Rs 1,200 crore annually to give out salaries and old-age pensions.
Since the financial crisis broke out in February, not a single meeting of the EDMC has taken place without sanitation workers raising slogans outside. While the office bearers expressed concern over the deteriorating financial condition of the civic body, and blamed the “non-cooperative attitude” of the Delhi government, there was not much they could change with revenue deficits of close to Rs 1,000 crore.
In March, the East corporation had staved off a similar crisis with a grant-in-aid of Rs 174 crore from the state government. The corporation also put together its toll tax and property tax collections and diverted those funds towards employee salaries to end the strike. But less than three months later, the corporation’s coffers went dry again.
Soon after the East corporation got into a financial pickle in February, the North corporation faced a similar situation. It had a monthly salary bill of Rs 221 crore, but hadn’t paid salaries for two months (that has since been cleared) and old-age and other pensions for well over a year. But unlike the East civic body, the North corporation put in place a few corrective measures such as increasing revenue collection from property taxes and implementing a new advertising policy to increase revenue. Though these measures won’t bear immediate results, at least that’s a start.
This was a crisis everyone saw coming. Since the 2012 financial year, municipal corporations have claimed they have not been paid their share of taxes, what’s called ‘global share’. They are entitled to 5.5 per cent of the taxes collected by the Delhi government. The civic bodies claim that they have not been paid this share since 2012-13.
According to MCD officials, in 2013, the outgoing Sheila government did not disburse this amount but since the corporations were not facing a crunch, the demand did not rise. In 2014, Arvind Kejriwal quit after 49 days in power and once again, the global share was not given to the corporations. With the AAP government back in power in 2015, the corporations, now scraping the bottom of the barrel, began seeking their share of taxes. This was followed by employee unrest and led to rifts between the MCD, state and Centre as each blamed the other.
For now, the crisis has been temporarily solved with salaries paid until May 31. However, unless the East and North civic bodies put stricter tax collection measures in place, another strike may be round the corner. It is unlikely that the Chief Minister will bail the municipal corporations out a third time.
Safai karmacharis who went on strike this month say they were forced to resort to it.
“We were not getting our salaries but we kept doing our work. So the officers of the corporation or the government did not realise what we were going through. Then we stopped doing our work and they still did not pay heed to our demands. It was only after we threw garbage on the streets that they took note of our demands,” said Shyam Singh, a sanitation worker under the EDMC.
“We had no option. The governments can have whatever problems they have with each other, but I refuse to let that come in the way if my children are near starvation,” said Rani, another EDMC worker.