The Delhi High Court on Thursday took a strong stand against ‘irresponsible’ municipal officials and political leaders from the central government whose power tactics were inconveniencing hundreds of employees and pensioners.
The high court stated that the problem of shortage of funds and non-payment of salaries has arisen as the Delhi government has been sandwiched between the MCDs and the central government, which belonged to the opposite political party. “Tell your political leaders they have to mature and rise above all this. If things don't change and go on like this, we will not be surprised if the political leaders and people who indulge in this are lynched by the public at large,” the bench observed orally.
The high court has now directed the Delhi government to transfer back within two weeks to the municipal corporations and local bodies the amount recovered or adjusted from them against their outstanding loans.
“In our view, the deduction of loan made by the Delhi government in these circumstances is not called for, particularly when the recovery of loan by the MCDs had been in consideration for the last over three years,” the bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said.
Justice Sanghi said, “I can't tell how disgusted we are with all of you (Delhi government and municipal corporations). You have no concern for employees. You are behaving completely irresponsibly and do not care about the poor employees and retired pensioners at all.”
The bench was hearing various petitions relating to non-payment of salaries of employees and pensioners of different cadres by the three municipal corporations of Delhi -- North, East and South.
The list of petitioners includes doctors, nurses, paramedic staff, safai karamcharis, teachers, class-IV employees, teachers and retired staff like teachers and engineers. During the hearing, the bench questioned the Delhi government for having money to give huge advertisements in newspapers regularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and warned it of ordering an inquiry and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
“How much you have sent on advertisements during the pandemic, we want to know. We will order an inquiry and order by the CAG. You were giving a daily half page and full page in every other newspaper. You have money for these advertisements,” it said. The bench said it's these safai karamcharis who clean others houses daily and they are not paid by the authorities.
“We will tell them not to come to work from tomorrow if they are not paid. Let us see how your houses and hospitals are cleaned then. We are ashamed of you and your leaders, the way you are behaving,” the judges said, adding that the MCDs and Delhi government were fighting with each other like cats and dogs. During the hearing, Delhi government counsel Satyakam informed the court that a sanction order was passed to release Rs 337 crore to five local bodies including three MCDs for January to March 2021 without making any deduction towards the loan.
He also said the revenue of Delhi government has taken a serious hit due to the pandemic in the financial year 2020-21. The bench, while dictating its order, said It is clear to us that there is no real sense of concern or sympathy for municipal employees in political establishments, whether it is the Delhi government or municipal corporations.
It also asked the Delhi government to file an affidavit on the amount, which according to it is liable to be paid to the MCDs as far as budget and revised estimate is concerned. It also directed the corporations to file respective affidavits disclosing their expenditures since April 2020 and made it clear that if they fail to do so, their chairpersons shall be present in the hearing on February 22.
We further direct that the amounts which the MCDs and local bodies have received or will receive shall not be disbursed for any other purpose except releasing salaries and pensions and they have to first clear the arrears, the bench said. It also asked the authorities to ensure that they shall first clear the outstanding salaries and pensions for October 2020 and thereafter, the remaining corpus shall be used in an equitable manner.
The bench had earlier expressed its disapproval over Delhi government's decision to deduct from the amounts transferred to the corporations the loans given to them, saying even the Reserve Bank of India had imposed a moratorium on recall of loans and declaration of accounts as NPA by banks and financial institutions. It had earlier said that it was intended to stop all non-essential, discretionary expenses of the three municipal corporations, including the perks of councillors and senior officers "living like lords", so that salaries and pensions of COVID-19 front line workers -- doctors, nurses and sanitation staff -- can be paid.
The corporations had told the court that they were unable to pay salaries or pensions due to paucity of funds and if the loan amounts are not deducted from the basic tax assignment (BTA) by the Delhi government, they can meet the salaries of their employees. The coffers of the MCDs are filled partly by revenue generated by the corporations by raising taxes and fees permissible under the Delhi Municipal Corporations Act and partly by contributions made by the Delhi government.