Delhi sanitation workers call off strike

New Delhi: Sanitation workers in east and north Delhi called off their strike on Friday after the Delhi government released their salary arrears even as political parties indulged in a blame game for the piles of waste lying on the streets that has caused concerns about a possible outbreak of diseases.

The strike ended on the day the Delhi High Court directed the city government to immediately release funds to the East Delhi Municipal Corporation for payment of salaries to its employees. Earlier in the day, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi met sanitation workers on strike for the past 12 days to express his solidarity with them.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders Sanjay Singh and Dilip Pandey held a press conference in the afternoon and said the Arvind Kejriwal government had released the funds for payment of pending salaries of sanitary workers. "We had released Rs.513 crore instead of Rs.493 crore to pay the salaries of North and East Municipal Corporation employees before the high court's order came," said AAP leader Dilip Pandey.

The announcement to pay salary arrears to sanitation staff had been made by Kejriwal at a rally in Delhi on May 8. Hours after the release of funds was announced, the Akhil Bhartiya Safai Mazdoor Sangh, to which sanitation workers are affiliated, said the strike was called off.

"We got to know that the Delhi government has released Rs.513 crore towards our salaries. So, we have decided to call off the strike. Sanitation workers will be back on work from tomorrow (Saturday)," Sangh president Krishnapal Parcha told IANS. "Delhi will be cleaned in just three days after we resume work," he added.

Parcha said over 10,000 sanitation workers were on strike for the last 12 days over the issue of non-payment of their salaries. A civic body official confirmed that the strike was called off. "The sanitation workers have called of their strike and decided to resume work from tomorrow. The areas of the national capital, where garbage was lying on the roads, will be cleaned in a day or two," the official told IANS.

The sanitation workers from east and north municipal corporations had complained that they had not been given salaries for the last two months. The strike had badly impacted the system of garbage collection in Delhi with piles of household waste spilling on roads. At places, the strewn garbage stretched to several metres with even vehicles getting stuck. Citizens expressed concern at the possibility of breakout of diseases.

There were also reports of workers deliberately spilling garbage on the roads to register their protest in Mayur Vihar and Patparganj areas. "For the past 10 days, drains have been overflowing and garbage has spilled on the road. We are not eating outside and staying mostly indoors to save ourselves from any possible disease," said Sanjay Sharma, a resident of east Delhi.

The national capital, on an average produces 8,630 tonnes per day of municipal solid waste, according to Delhi's Department of Environment. In its decision, the Delhi High Court asked the Delhi government to release Rs.493 crore for the pending payment of MCD employees. Rahul Gandhi met the agitating sanitation workers at the East Delhi Municipal Corporation headquarters in Patparganj and accused the central and Delhi governments of "not showing concern" for their welfare.

AAP leaders also expressed concern at "ghost employees" in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and sought an inquiry. "There are as many as 22,000 ghost employees in the MCD. They do not exist but their salary is drawn. I have no hesitation in saying that the MCD is the most corrupt institution in the world," Pandey alleged.

Another AAP leader Sanjay Singh accused the BJP of "converting Delhi into a garbage dump". "Don't punish people of Delhi for voting in our favour." BJP leader R.P. Singh said the central government cannot be blamed for delay in payment of salary arrears of sanitation workers and accused the AAP of not governing Delhi properly.

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