August 27, 2023

Delhi: Five-day Strike of DBCs Ends in Victory

Anurag Saxena

THE five-day strike of over 3,500 domestic breeding checkers (DBCs) of Delhi has ended in a victory, and it stands as an example for the struggles for regularisation and against the policies of contractual work in government departments not only in Delhi but across the country.

The strike led by the Anti-Malaria Ekta Karmachari Union (affiliated to CITU) was successful in galvanising vast sections of non-unionised workers as well, with observance being as high as 95 per cent across the five days.

After the five-day strike, the MCD Commissioner was forced to agree that the corporation would itself take necessary steps to create permanent posts for DBC, and this would put an end to the dilly-dallying between the corporation and the Delhi government. The administration also agreed to give Rs 10 lakh compensation for the workers who die while in service and clear all applications for jobs on compassionate grounds.

3,500 DBC workers of the now unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) have been discharging the crucial duty of controlling deadly diseases such as dengue and chikungunya in the national capital for the last 28 years. In 1996, when Delhi was ravaged by a deadly dengue epidemic, the health department of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi recruited these workers as malaria beldars on a daily wage basis.

They were designated as ‘health workers’ in 1998, DBCs/health workers in 2000 and later as DBCs in 2006. However, over the years, the job requirements of these workers expanded enormously to include not only the control of life-threatening diseases like dengue, chikungunya, malaria, jaundice, cholera, corona (COVID-19); but also house tax and toll tax collection, various tasks related to the building department, Swachh Sarvekshan Abhiyan and  DDA to name the few.

In spite of the perennial and hugely diversified nature of work, DBC workers continue to be treated as daily wagers and are paid notified minimum wages for the semi-skilled category. Numerous workers who have retired or died in the last 28 years haven't been paid any gratuity or compensation by the municipal corporation. Even the basic rights of bonus, PF and ESI were won solely through the struggle of workers in 2016.

The formation of the Anti Malaria Ekta Karmachari Union (AMEKU) in 2017 acted as a major fillip in the struggle of DBC workers for regularisation. Numerous agitation programmes and strikes have been organised since 2017 on the issue of regularisation and other demands. In 2017, the municipal corporations were forced to arrive at a written agreement that considered DBCs to be regularised as sindwats.

In the subsequent period, the BJP-led MCDs and the AAP-led Delhi government kept dilly-dallying in taking steps towards creating permanent posts, which was necessary to implement the agreement of 2017.

After another phase of struggle last year, the authorities of South Delhi Municipal Corporation were forced to issue a written order on March 9, 2022 through which all DBC employees were given the post of MTS (PH) on a contract basis.

The present phase of the strike in the form of an indefinite strike since July 31, 2023 was necessitated primarily by the non-implementation of the order of March 9, 2022.

AMEKU is organised on a zonal basis in the 12 zones of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The strike preparation involved an intensive campaign on a zonal basis with planned and organised efforts to reach out to the members of the union as well as the workers outside the fold of the union. Another important aspect in popularising the slogans of the movement was the coordinated effort towards reaching out to the 250 elected municipal councilors of Delhi. This meticulous planning and execution provided the ground over which such a successful strike could take off.

The successful five-day strike of the 3500-odd DBC workers has to be seen in the context of the political background of Delhi. Today AAP party runs the Delhi government as well as the MCD. AAP had promised to end contractualisation in government departments before the 2015 assembly elections of Delhi and promised the same regarding MCD before the elections last year. However, today contractualisation is a norm for all the departments of the Delhi government and also for the MCD. This underlines that behind the shadowboxing between AAP and BJP lies the cruel reality that when it comes to class issues and class perspective, AAP too, is committed to the ruling class agenda of contractualisation. The movement of DBC workers over the last six years has shown us that through consistent efforts and measures to reach out and galvanise the widest possible sections of workers and employees, it is possible to break the neoliberal hegemony of the ruling class political parties.

AMEKU, under the leadership of CITU, will be vigilant to maintain its class unity to ensure that the administration doesn't try to sabotage the gains of the strike-through any means whatsoever. The biggest challenge in front of the trade union movement in Delhi is to step up the struggle for regularisation and against contractualisation in the coming days. The lessons of the successful strike of DBC workers shall definitely guide and shape this task at hand.