'We are forced to work on an empty stomach'

Ramesh Kumar, 35, doesn’t need an alarm to get up at around 5 am, be it a hot summer day or a biting cold morning. He has been going to work sharp at 6 am for the past 15 years.

More often than not, he sweeps the Ghonda area under the East Corporation’s Shahdara Zone before the roads gets busy. But for the past few months he has not been paid salary. “We are forced to work on an empty stomach. We have not been getting salaries on time for six to eight months. How are we supposed to work?” says Kumar in despair.

“Every months we look forward to receiving our salaries but it never happens,” he adds.
Sanitation workers under the North and East Corporations have either not been getting salaries in time or at all for the past four months. It’s the story of almost every department under the North and East civic agencies as they have been facing acute shortage of funds for quite some time now.

The East Delhi Municipal Corporation requires over Rs 100 crore a month to pay salaries and other benefits to its over 32,000 employees. Even the North Corporation is in the red and it requires Rs 171 crore a month to pay salaries and other benefits to over 70,000 employees.

Officials with the municipal corporations say that some departments, including sanitation workers, have not given salary for over three months now.

“The civic agencies are not able to pay salary to some departments in the past couple of months, but they have been demanding funds from the city government. The moment the corporations get the funds, they will disburse the salaries,” says a senior official.

“We make the city clean for others but we are not paid in return. Why should we even consider working. You tell me, will you work if you know you are not going to get paid. I earn hand to mouth and I am not able to provide for my family if I don’t get salary,” says Kumar.

“If we don’t report to work we are cursed by the general public. Why don’t they see our suffering? Why has the government become so apathetic about us,” he adds.

Safai karamcharis have been forced to shift their children from private schools to government schools. “With no salary how can we afford quality education for our children. My children used to go to private schools, I got them admitted to a corporation school,” says Kumar, who has two children.

Sanitation workers’ unions have been staging protests demanding salaries, clearance of arrears and regularisation of contractual posts. “We took out a token march on January 14 when employees from all departments came out on the streets, as they have also not been getting paid for the past couple of months,” says Rajender Mewati, general secretary of United Front of MCD Employees.

Sanitation workers plan to go on an indefinite strike starting January 27.
Even those who have been regularised in 2004, have not been given their arrears. “We have not been given our arrears. The East Corporation owes me around Rs 7 lakh to Rs 8 lakh since 2004,” says Kumar.

Sanitation workers are required to report on duty at 7 am, and remain available till 3 pm. “Most of us finish our job even before the roll call. We sweep our area before 7 am,” he adds.

Workers’ unions said unification of the three corporations is the only way out.

“According to the notice given to the municipal corporations, the main reason for staging a dharna at the Civic Centre is delay in the payment of salaries. Safai karamcharis feel that trifurcation of the unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 2012 is the cause of North and East Corporations being bankrupt today, as all the sources of income have gone to South Corporation,” adds Mewati.

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