Redeployment of workers stares Corporation in the face

CHENNAI DEC. 4. Having pushed the resolution to privatise conservancy operations in all city zones using its working majority in the Corporation council, the ruling AIADMK and the civic administration now face critical issues to translate the policy decision into action.

The most contentious issue staring the decision makers in the face today is the job security of conservancy workers numbering over 7,500 on permanent pay roll and 1,688 others on consolidated pay.

There are 8,442 permanent posts for conservancy workers and nearly a 1,000 of these are vacant, senior officials say. Apart from this, there are the 1,660 daily wage workers, who fill in for absentees.

The AIADMK passed the resolution last week at the council meet amidst protests from the DMK, the BJP, the CPI and the CPI(M) councillors, that they were kept in the dark till the commencement of the meeting. On Wednesday, the DMK floor leader, C.V.Malayan, submitted a letter to the Commissioner seeking recall of the resolution in the next meeting to enable a debate.

The decision has also invoked protests from the conservancy workers, a section of whom staged a protest at the Ripon Buildings early this week. Leaders of the CITU-affiliated Corporation Red Flag Union have turned down a suggestion made by the Commissioner, M. Kalaivanan, that they submit their suggestions to a committee, which would be set up once the State Government authorises the areas to be privatised and the tenders are floated.

"By appearing before such a committee, we would have given our consent for privatisation," the union leader, P. Munuswamy, said. The union has planned to take out a rally on December 13.

Meanwhile, the civic agency is busy working out the modalities for privatisation. "Right now, as a policy decision, we have extended privatisation to seven zones. (Zones VI, VIII and X were privatised in 2000). Depending on the situation when the tenders are finalised, the conservancy staff will be redeployed," Mr. Kalaivanan told The Hindu. Further, several staff members were already opting for voluntary retirement leading to vacancies in various departments, he added.

The conservancy workers fear a repeat of the privatisation move in 2000, when the civic agency handed over three zones to CES Onyx for conservancy works. To accommodate the private players, 1,912 permanent employees, 451 consolidated pay employees and 554 daily wagers were re-deployed to other zones.

The then DMK government also exempted the Corporation from the provisions of the Contract Labour Regulation and Abolition Act, 1970 after labour unions moved the court against privatisation. The union now fears that there might not be enough vacancies within the civic agency for a total re-deployment.

Ironically, when the DMK government exempted the civic agency from the Labour Act, it was two of the present AIADMK councillors, the deputy mayor, `Karate' R.Thiagarajan (then a Congress (I) councillor), and P.Vetrivel (then the Opposition leader representing TMC), who opposed the move tooth and nail. When a call attention motion was taken up by the Council on May 24, 2000, Mr.Thiagarajan and Mr.Vetrivel staged a walkout. They termed the regime led by the former Mayor, M. K. Stalin, `anti-Dalit' as the order affected the interests of several conservancy workers.

But last week, Mr. Thiagarajan and Mr. Vetrivel maintained that they were opposed to the contract with Onyx only because of the rates that the civic agency had signed to pay.

The civic agency's seven-year agreement with the private player has come in for severe criticism from the AIADMK in recent times. They have been alleging that the contract with the company was deliberately made to include clearance of `construction waste' to increase payments.

But the company representatives have maintained that they have been following the terms of their contract with the Corporation in 1999 to the T. Also, the MoU was signed before the Municipal Solid Waste Rules were issued.

Currently, the company gets Rs. 712 per tonne of mixed garbage and clears on an average up to 1,200 metric tonnes per day. This rate was calculated to be lower than the amount that the civic agency spends.

According to estimates, the first year rate of payment for Onyx was Rs. 648 per metric tonne while it would cost the Corporation Rs. 1,050 per metric tonne to have operated on the same scale. The considerable difference in rates has been quoted for the seven-year period.

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