Expressing serious concern over the continuous rise of Covid-19 cases in the national capital, the Delhi High Court Thursday said Delhi may soon become the “corona capital” of the country.
On Thursday, the city reported 6,715 cases from 58,910 tests. The death count rose to 6,769, with 66 deaths being reported.
The court also pulled up the state, Centre and MCDs for their failure in resolving financial disputes which has resulted in non-payment of salaries to employees, including doctors and health workers, during the pandemic.
The division bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad observed the Delhi government was claiming to have topped the list of maximum number of Covid tests but has “gone completely haywire on pandemic and infections”.
“We are taking that very seriously,” said the bench, while hearing petitions filed by North, South and East MCD employees for release of their salaries. The HC had earlier also taken suo motu note on the issue of unpaid salaries of doctors working in NDMC hospitals.
The issue of financial dispute between the Centre and Delhi again came to fore in court on Thursday. Civic authorities have been complaining that the Delhi government has squeezed their funds and not released grants-in aid, which has resulted in non-payment of salaries and pensions to employees. Opposing the MCDs’ submission, the Delhi government said the decline in revenue collection has also impacted its finances and it expects the Centre to release more than Rs 10,000 crore owed to it. The Centre disputed this.
The court said it cannot be expected to act as an arbitrator between the government agencies and look into their budgets to find out who is at fault. “It is for all government agencies to work in unison, put their heads together to come up with a solution and find requisite funds to release salaries,” said the court.
The court earlier pulled up the Centre for showing “complete disdain” to a communication sent by the Delhi government to convene a meeting, and observed that while it understands the difficulty of fund shortage, it expects cooperation between departments. “Where are these employees going to go in this festive season to satisfy the basic needs of their families? Those who are pensioners and old and ailing…,” asked the court.
The Centre said a letter was written by the Home Secretary to the L-G on October 29 regarding the funds issue, in which it said it would meet the requirements of Delhi “through back-to-back loans” in view of GST compensation shortfall for 2020-21.
As per the letter, Rs 444.60 crore has already been released towards this end on October 23 as well as an assistance of Rs 380.40 crore. Funds under the disaster management head are also being released and the Delhi government can also access funds under the National Small Savings Fund, as per the letter. The Delhi government called it a unilateral decision of the Centre.
The court directed the Delhi government to release total transfer duty of around Rs 63 crore for July and August on or before November 9 and 13, respectively, to allow NDMC to take immediate steps to release pensions of ex-employees for May. It also said to process pending demand for transfer duty of EDMC on or before November 13 so that pensions for September can be released.
The civic bodies were also asked to “make an endeavour” to release arrears of salaries of all employees and pensions of retired employees at the earliest, keeping in mind Diwali was round the corner. It adjourned the case to December 16, asking the parties to file a fresh status report.
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