On Thursday, the Union government announced the names of the first 20 urban areas that will be developed as ‘smart cities’. Meanwhile, the national capital is on the verge of another civic lock-down. The irony has not been not lost on anyone. Over 1.3 lakh employees of the three Municipal Corporation Departments on Wednesday went on strike over the non-payment of salaries and other dues. Municipal workers have alleged that they have not been paid for three to four months. The strike was called by all the unions of MCD employees, including sanitation staff, engineers, teachers and health staff, among others. In a show of defiance against uncaring authorities, sanitation workers dumped heaps of garbage on various roads and streets of the city. Other MCD employees, meanwhile, had sought to halt different civic projects. Following the crisis, the Delhi High Court issued notices to the city government, the Centre and MCD authorities to resolve the situation at the earliest. Suffice to say, the crisis has once again brought forth the recurring theme of financial mismanagement in urban municipal bodies. Authorities at the MCDs have argued that the Delhi government has not released their total share of funds. The Delhi government, however, maintained that it released the allocated funds to the MCDs on time. Moreover, a Delhi minister has claimed that the MCDs owe the government Rs 5,908 crore, on which the government had announced a moratorium. In response, the three MCD Mayors have asserted that the government is not being entirely honest in its assertions. They have claimed that the city government is sitting on a sum of Rs 2,501 crore due to them. The non-disbursement of funds, they argue, is down to an attempt to defame the civic bodies. Irrespective of these claims, what is entirely apparent is that in the midst of a political tussle between the MCDs and the city government, the average municipal employee and Delhi’s citizens suffers. Why is it a political tussle? To the uninitiated, the MCDs are controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sits in the high offices of the Delhi government. Clashes between the BJP and AAP in the past year, across various political platforms, have been well documented. Irrespective of these political slugfests, the non-payment of salaries and dues for three to four months is criminal. Just imagine if a famous private entity did not remunerate its employees for three-four months. When the infamous Kingfisher Airlines withheld the salaries of its employees for six months, it had earned the media’s wrath. Unfortunately for the average municipal employee, the past year has been witness to numerous such instances of criminal disregard.
Back in June, approximately 15,000 tonnes of waste was dumped by the roadside and in residential areas, as 12,000 sanitation workers refused to work unless their salaries were paid in full. Back then, the sanitation workers had not been paid for two months. One must take a moment to empathize with their plight here. Here is a community of workers who come in at the crack of dawn and ensure that Delhi’s street remain clean, despite a glut of litter being strewn around the previous day. They do the toughest jobs possible and, in turn, get paid nothing for months. In the political bickering and turf war between the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP, it is the average MCD worker and the common man walking on the street who suffered. Similar to the situation back then, the Delhi High Court has stepped in and pulled up the necessary authorities. There is a deep residual stink that emanates from such outcomes. A city has been almost brought to its knees because the rulers are busy feuding between themselves. It’s essential that the citizens of Delhi receive fair and just treatment from the elected representatives. It really does not matter if those elected representatives live in Race Course Road or Kaushambi, Ghaziabad. The recent civic crisis is the latest reminder that the bitter and heated turf war between the Centre and the Delhi government must end. If this crisis is not solved very soon, we will see garbage floating on the streets, among other civic catastrophes. In order to mitigate such a worst case scenario, a timely resolution is needed.