Pay salaries, or bear the stench

Municipal workers struck work for a day recently, letting Delhi’s streets go unswept and allowing rubbish to pile up at roadside garbage dumps. The city could live with that. But the one-day strike and a protest meeting by employees, representing the three municipal corporations of Delhi (MCDs), is just a taste of what is to come. MCD sweepers have threatened to go on indefinite strike from January 27. Their main demand is as legitimate as it can get – many sanitation workers as well as municipal bureaucrats, teachers, engineers, doctors and nurses, have not got their salaries for the last three to four months. The reason for that is a shameful state of affairs: two of the three municipal corporations in the national capital do not have the money to pay wages, or to run basic welfare schemes like widows’ pension. They are on the edge of bankruptcy.

It is absurd that the Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi government, the BJP-led Central government and the BJP-run MCDs have not been able to solve the festering problem. Garbage had overflowed into the streets as recently as October when the workers’ unions last flexed some muscle. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had then released a tranche of funds to the MCDs, helping them tide over that immediate salaries crisis. The AAP government also used that opportunity to flag its demand for full statehood for Delhi – a Union territory run by multiple authorities. Along with the Delhi government, municipal bodies share responsibilities related to sanitation, healthcare and education. But the corporations have relatively few options of generating revenue for these activities. And that explains why the three Delhi mayors lead protests to Delhi Secretariat where the chief minister sits, or seek auditions with the Lieutenant-Governor who exercises the Centre’s powers in the city.

The MCDs need to do more to raise money through their own resources, like property tax and toll on roads. The trifurcation of the corporation in 2012, into two poor MCDs and one rich MCD, too, needs to be reviewed. But the bigger responsibility right now lies with the Kejriwal government. It is yet to implement the recommendations on revenue-sharing made by the Fourth Delhi Finance Commission, arguing that the Centre has to do its own bit first. However, the MCDs will be happy for now even if the third commission’s rep-ort is implemented. According to them, this would translate into Rs 3,000 crore coming into their kitty from the Delhi government. The High Court recently took serious note of the situation, directing the implementation of the recommendations. Kejriwal should be listening.
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