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Dirty politics in a stink-city

Dirty politics in a stink-city
Highlights

Delhi has been thrown back to a stone age. Thanks to the bickering leaders and political parties, the citizens of the national capital are being...

The face-off between the AAP government and the BJP-led municipal corporations over funding of salaries continues without any solution in sight and with the Delhi and the Centre blaming each other instead of jointly thrashing out a solution. Who should handle such situations sensitively is beyond citizens' comprehension now. Or should there be same governments at both the levels if one needs to lead a normal life without being troubled by one agency or the other every day? Citizens' frustration is mounting as their tolerance levels are being tested severely

Delhi has been thrown back to a stone age. Thanks to the bickering leaders and political parties, the citizens of the national capital are being punished for something they did not bargain for when they voted Aam Aadmi Party to power in the last Assembly elections and for the BJP in the Municipal Corporations.

With the Safai Karmacharis of the three Municipal Corporations of South, North and East going on strike demanding their salaries and arrears, the nightmare seems to be unending. The colonies are stinking. The streets are stinking. On one hand, plans are afoot to transform our cities into smart cities, and here we have our capital turning into a stink-city so often.

In addition, doctors and nurses of the seven major hospitals of North and East corporations have gone on protest deserting hospitals with similar demands. Healthcare services are also crippled. Thousands of patients are lying unattended in this harsh winter. Teachers are on strike seeking salaries.

The face-off between the AAP government and the BJP-led municipal corporations over funding of salaries continues without any solution in sight and with the Delhi and the Centre blaming each other instead of jointly thrashing out a solution. Who should handle such situations sensitively is beyond citizens' comprehension now. Or should there be same governments at both the levels if one needs to lead a normal life without being troubled by one agency or the other every day?

Capital Notes need not confine itself to a local story. But, Delhi is the capital and the impasse in governance would be noticed quickly across the world. Take a look at the mess the capital is in now. There are in all 25,000 teachers working in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), of which 16,000 have gone on an indefinite strike forcing schools to remain closed in the NDMC and EDMC area.

Though, schools under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) remain open as the teachers are so far being paid regularly, they are joining the protesters often in solidarity affecting the academic year. Sadly, examinations are round the corner and no one seems to care how all this would impact the psyche of the children.

MCD Teachers Association President Ram Niwas says "we know our strike affects the future of the students, but teachers in the NDMC have not received salaries for the last two months whereas those in EDMC haven't received for 4 months so how will our families survive? We will conduct extra classes for students when this strike ends. After all, children of our teachers too are affected.

Who will lend these teachers money every month? We understand that at least nine lakh students are suffering" Over 7,000 doctors under the MCD have also begun their indefinite strike last week blaming the corporation for untimely payment of salaries. However, emergency services at the hospitals remain functional. As for the municipal strike, today (5th of Feb) is the 10th day. The protest marches are also leading to the worst ever traffic jams that the city has ever witnessed.

Effigies of Kejriwal, Modi and that of the three Mayors are being burnt on a daily basis. This is not the first time this has happened. But, this kind of large-scale protest is taking place for the second time now. This time even Rahul Gandhi is not interested to give photo-ops it seems as he remains tight-lipped.

The protesting civic staff and teachers and doctors seemingly have lost faith in Kejriwal. In the past they believed him and resumed duties. But now the political game is evident. These Corporations just do not have enough funds. While politicos keep trading charges, these corporations have mounted a deficit of Rs 1,600 crore. On January 7, the Delhi High Court ordered the Kejriwal administration, without mincing words, to release funds as per the Third Finance Commission's recommendations.

The High Court rejected all explanations in this regard. The Delhi government has released only grant-in-aid of Rs 465 crore while the accumulated municipal reform fund since 2013-14 amounting to Rs 200 crore is yet to be released.

Officials of North Corporation disclose that the corporation needs immediately Rs 500 crore. Its other liabilities are Rs 380 crore (due to contractors) and pay arrears to Safai Karmacharis (Rs 800 crore) and loans (Rs 600 crore). The East Corporation has a deficit of Rs.850 crore and it owes its Karmacharis three months salaries.

The High Court saw through the game and asked the government to implement the recommendations of the Finance Commission while refusing to entertain political arguments on conditionalities governing devolution of the funds to corporations.

When a resident of Delhi preferred to take recourse to PIL, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter pointing out that the Delhi High Court was seized of the matter and the Apex court was not willing to do the HC job.

Against this backdrop, Arvind Kejriwal has announced that he would be diverting Rs 551 crore from the Education Department's funds as loan to the civic bodies if they preferred to take. This was promptly refused by the civic bodies. Their argument is that they would not treat the amount as loan but as part of dues.
The mayors of the three municipal corporations met the Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia too in this regard to insist on "dues not loans."

They further said that Kejriwal was acting more like a bank manager, talking of loans instead of announcing a financial package to revive the almost dead civic bodies. This charity like attitude of Kejriwal is only to be expected. He knows what would be accepted and what would be rejected. In fact, any diversion of the Education Department's funds would severely affect the educational projects including classrooms construction.

The government needs to provide at least 15,000 additional classrooms in the existing schools, according to its own estimates, and it had plans to construct 8,000 new rooms and 25 new schools to meet the demand.
Kejriwal also cleverly tried to pit the Education Department against the civic bodies in doing so as all the ongoing works would have to be deferred in the schools. Kejriwal did not stop there.

He went ahead and tried to target the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and claimed that the latter was attempting to impose the President's Rule "just as in Arunachal Pradesh.” His argument was that "an impression was being created as if the Delhi Government is responsible for the financial mess in the MCDs, ruled by the BJP for the last 10 years. There are huge scams in the MCDs. This strike is deliberate and it is on to show that the governance has collapsed.”

This stand-off has not benefited the AAP any way. All these sections which are on strike and those people affected by it are the ones who voted for the AAP seeking "clean politics.” What they are tasting now is "dirty politics.” Citizens' frustration is mounting as their tolerance levels are being tested severely.

Ravindra Gupta, Mayor of North Delhi Municipal Corporation, says "crying wolf does not help always. We are also an elected body just as his (Kejriwal) government is. Why blame the Centre for everything?" However, he does not answer when asked whether the BJP which is in power for the past 10 years should blame itself for the financial mess.

Well, the capital is caught between the devil and the deep sea. People have become nostalgic about the Congress rule already. It is really sad that both the AAP and the BJP have turned anti-people as against the norm of people turning against the political parties!

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