Politics is giving rise to stink

After his return from Bengaluru, where he went for the naturopathy treatment of his chronic cough, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would be reviewing preparations for the February 14 celebrations. But, for the first anniversary celebrations to be a success, the Aam Aadmi Party government would have to get heaps of garbage moved out of the Delhi roads, if at all it is seeking a Valentine’s love from the citizens in the national capital braving the stink for the last 11 days. As alleged by the AAP, the striking municipal corporation employees have been egged on by the BJP to continue their agitation while the Delhi Police, directly under the Centre, has warned of a law and order problem that could arise from the confrontationist sanitation workers resorting to traffic blockades, mostly in east Delhi which is worst affected by the strike. On their part, the Delhi government and Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung have released about Rs 1,000 crore for payment of salaries to the agitating sanitation workers, doctors and school teachers employed with the east and north corporations. But having tasted the blood, the agitating safai karamcharis want permanent solutions to their problems, which include decade-old arrears. The Delhi High Court has warned the employees not to take the City to ransom even when their salaries have been paid. It has also rightly asked the Delhi government why the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) should not be invoked against the stubborn karamcharis.

While there is merit in the demand for a permanent solution to the problem, the answer does not lie only in regular payment of salaries and allowances to the corporation staff but whether the civic body is able to get its finances right. The precarious state of finances is not limited to Delhi municipalities but prevalent in most of the big cities where local bodies are on the brink of bankruptcies despite hefty collection of levies under various heads like property tax. Though Delhi is among the top states in terms of per capita income with an annual budget exceeding Rs 40,000 crore, the BJP-ruled municipal corporations have been facing severe financial crisis amidst allegations of mismanagement and leakages.

Even if some solution is found for the time being, the BJP-AAP slugfest is expected to continue till the high stake municipal elections due in 2017. Surely, Kejriwal is eyeing control of the local bodies, crucial to his promise of good governance, even as the BJP would not vacate the space so easily. In the meantime, tax payers in the national capital may have to suffer the pain inflicted on them by tonnes of garbage, despite being charged the extra cess in the name of Swachh Bharat!
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