The number of mobile sahayaks, who are last-mile delivery agents for the Delhi government’s doorstep delivery project, is down by nearly 200 since its launch in 2018. Mobile sahayaks respond to requests made by people through the helpline, 1076, for services ranging from issuance of marriage certificates to driving licenses, which remained suspended between March 23 and August 31 due to the pandemic.
The Delhi government’s administrative reforms department has administrative control over the project, which is run by VFS Global, a private company known for its visa processing operations. The project, under which 100 kinds of services are available, resumed on September 1.
According to information obtained under the RTI Act, on October 2018, a month after its launch, there were 246 mobile sahayaks working under the project. By October 2019, the number came down 110, the administrative reforms department said in its response. The number dipped further after the pandemic hit its operations. As of now, around 50 mobile sahayaks are engaged to address service requests from people.
The number of mobile sahayaks came down even as the services on offer steadily rose from 40 in September 2018 to 70 in August 2019 and 100 in December 2019. The monthly average of service requests remained around 19,000 until last December. Over the last one month, around 12,000 requests have been received. “Delhi doorstep delivery is the only scheme of its kind in the world which is not just extending government services to people but also reducing the risk of corona transmission,” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Wednesday.
At least three mobile sahayaks who have been laid off, including two in January 2019, told The Indian Express that they were asked to leave within a day’s notice. In two cases, they were not given any reason, while in one case, the sahayak was told he was being terminated over an instance of “delay in service delivery”.
In a written statement, VFS Global told The Indian Express that the operations of the project, including the mobile sahayak staff, are its own responsibility, and not that of any third-party manpower service providers from which the company may source staff from. It had one such arrangement with Matrix Processing House, which was scrapped later.VFS Global’s own contract with the Delhi government is valid till September 2021, though it is learnt there are talks within the government to look for alternatives.
Asked, as part of the RTI application, if the government was planning to float fresh tenders to replace VFS Global, the response was, “Not decided as of now.” Responding to the same query, the company said, “It would be appropriate if you reach out to the concerned Delhi government authority for required information.”
VFS Global also said that in view of the pandemic, the company has had to “rationalise operational costs in line with reduced projected demand and capacity, and accordingly adjust the deployment of a section of the Mobile Sahayak staff”.
“The associated health and safety risks of deploying too many sahayaks for the door-to-door service were also taken into consideration. We are fully cognizant of the valuable contributions and efforts of the mobile sahayaks towards this project, and in that regard, stand committed to meet with our obligations. We continue to work closely with the Delhi government and assess next steps on an ongoing basis,” it added.
In another RTI response, the department said the government has not yet decided on any expansion of the list of services available under the scheme.
“As of now 100 services are available under doorstep. Not decided on expansion as of now, we may add but depends on the service and demand,” it said.
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