The Awakened Aspirations of the People of Delhi Must Be Honoured

काठमाण्डु टुडे २०७० माघ ७ गते २:५६ मा प्रकाशित

The AAP Government has come to power in Delhi riding on waves of people’s aspirations. The promise of people’s participation in decision-making and governance was one of the key promises that drew people to AAP, and the Janta Durbar was announced as a regular feature to ensure such participation. Janta Durbars in several other states have, till now, provided no break from the bureaucratic and patronising pattern of governance and grievance redressal. But the sheer explosion of popular expectations and aspirations showed that the same mechanism had the potential to play out very differently in Delhi.

As thousands of people thronged the first Janta Durbar called by the new Delhi Government, the situation soon became chaotic, and the Chief Minister eventually had to beat a retreat. The BJP and Congress were quick to brand the whole exercise as ‘anarchy’, and the AAP’s former fellow travelers like Kiran Bedi (now backing the BJP), sermonised them on how one should not seek to govern from rooftops. The media too, largely, delivered a verdict that the thronging people had ‘spoiled’ the Government’s debut. It seems that these fairly predictable criticisms weighed in with the CM, who has announced that the Janta Durbars will no longer be held: grievances will be entertained only through online, postal or phone avenues, and the CM has promised to make area-wise personal visits to parts of the city.

To brand the outpouring of people at the Janta Durbar as ‘anarchy’ that can have no place in governance is to dishonour the aspirations of the people of Delhi. People on the streets seeking accountability from elected representatives are a must to keep Governments on their toes. The victory of the AAP in such a short time reflected the fact that the dam of people’s patience with undemocratic and anti-people governments had burst. Instead of counselling patience to the people now, their insistent pressure on the Government must be welcomed and strengthened.

From all accounts, a large component of the thousands who thronged the Janta Durbar were Delhi’s contract workers, expecting the Government to deliver on its promise to regularisation of contract labourers. What needs to be stressed here is that regularisation of contract workers isn’t some populist slogan or promise that has its origins in the AAP manifesto – it is a legal obligation of any Government, and it is a demand with which workers and their unions have been agitating for years.

The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act requires that workers employed in any work of a perennial nature be regularised, and that contract workers who perform the same or similar kind of work as the workers directly employed by the principal employer are entitled to same wage rates, holidays , hours of work and other conditions of service as the latter. Most importantly, in case the contractor defaults in this obligation, it is the principal employer who bears the liability to ensure payment of wages and other benefits. And in the case of the Delhi Metro, MTNL, DTC, BSES, ASHA workers, teachers, hospital staff, sanitation and security workers, construction workers and so on, the principal employer – and principal violator of the law on contract labour and minimum wages – is the Government itself.

In fact, the denial of wages and other rights amounts to one of biggest and most systematic instances of corruption. Take the case of the Delhi Metro workers. Contractor companies are accused of denying minimum wages and allotting fake PF and health insurance accounts to siphon off upto a fourth of the share of workers’ dues. Despite complaints indicating that several crores of rupees are thus being looted from needy workers’ pockets to those of the contract companies, the latter are yet to be blacklisted. The same story is repeated in all other Government sectors. Moreover, in factories too, the Government and Labour Department have turned a blind eye to the violations of the contract labour and minimum wage laws by the factory owners, and in Delhi, time and again, elected representatives have weighed in on behalf of the rampantly illegal acts of the owners, against the legal rights of the workers. The victory of AAP in Delhi is due in very large part to the hope on part of many thousands of workers, that this Government will keep its promise, enforce the law, and end this daylight robbery. Will the AAP Government do what the workers of Delhi demand? The AAP Government has announced its decision to scrap FDI in multibrand retail in Delhi – will it likewise lose no time in enforcing the labour laws, regularising contract workers and enforcing minimum wages? That is the question uppermost in the minds of Delhi’s workers, whose courageous struggles have put the promise for regularisation on the AAP’s agenda in the first place.

The Government has reduced power tariffs by subsidising the discoms, even before the outcome of the audit it has ordered. If the charges against discoms – of tampering with meters and padding costs to overcharge people – are found to be true by the audit, surely it would make sense to reverse the privatisation of power? In the case of both power and water, most of Delhi’s poor suffer above all from lack of access to piped water and metered electricity supply. Ending the lopsided pattern of distribution that favours the rich, it is crucial to ensure access of water and power for all.

On other fronts too, aspirations are high and the Delhi Government’s response awaited. For now, the Delhi Government’s sole policy initiative in response to last year’s anti-rape agitation has been that of a ‘commando force’ of common citizens trained by ex-army personnel. What will be the brief of such a force, and how will its accountability to the values of women’s freedom be guaranteed, is far from clear. In Madhya Pradesh, the Nirbhaya Patrol of policewomen has quickly degenerated into a moral policing force, cracking down on consensual couples in public spaces; Delhi’s ‘commando force’ runs the same danger. Moreover, a commando force cannot do much in the vast majority of cases of violence against women which take place in the household. The need is for the focus to shift to public spending on rape crisis centres and safe shelters for women, as well as more courts and judges to ensure speedier trials. The Government has also promised to crack down on auto rickshaw drivers who refuse passengers and introduction of a fleet of women auto rickshaw drivers. The fact is that auto rickshaws can only serve a very small, relatively well-off segment of the population. The emphasis must be on an adequate fleet of DTC buses, to ensure safe transport 24/7 for all, especially for women.

The pressure of right wing and establishment forces on the AAP and its Delhi Government is quite apparent. It is for the workers, women, and common people of Delhi to exert pressure in the other direction and ensure that the Government remains true to its promises. Source Liberation News service

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