Delhi: Chandra Kumar Jha, a 50-year-old migrant from Bihar, has been working as caretaker of the 49-seater Jan Suvidha Complex (JSC)--containing community toilets and baths--in Delhi’s Dyal Singh Camp for the last seven years. He wakes up at 5 a.m. to facilitate the use of the complex for the people of his ‘basti’. Along with his wife and son (who is the safai karamchari or sanitation worker), he lives in a dingy room in the complex which is provided by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB). His wife broke her arm a month ago, and he had to pay an exorbitant medical bill which he says has landed him in debt, as he has not received his salary since August 2023. “ESIC card bhi nahin hai ki kuch madad ho paaye (I don't even have an Employees' State Insurance Corporation card which could have been of help),” says Jha.

This is the story of DUSIB’s Jan Suvidha Complexes. The staff, including the supervisor, the caretaker and the safai karamcharis, have not received their wages for months.

The Jan Suvidha Complexes serve the population in jhuggi clusters/slum areas at different locations in Delhi, in order to make them open-defecation-free. This was done in line with the Union government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan or Clean India Mission. The JSCs were earlier run on 'pay & use’ basis by the DUSIB; however, all the toilet facilities were made free of user charge with effect from January 2018.

At present, DUSIB runs over 662 JSCs in Delhi, serving more than 300,000 jhuggis with around 1.5 million population.

Overworked and underpaid

Kanhaiya Singh is a caretaker at a JSC in RK Puram’s Dr Ambedkar Basti. A father of two, he is the sole breadwinner in his family. His family lives in Bihar and he stays in the caretaker room of the complex. When his wife fell sick, he brought her to Delhi for treatment. “I had to rent a room, since I live in the JS complex," he says. "I had no money for the medical bills, and I had to borrow. The salary for October 2023 was credited in my account in the last week of January 2024.

“I work more than 12 hours a day and receive Rs 11,700 per month. Niranjan, the safai karamchari, is paid Rs 7,000 per month. I don’t care about minimum wages as long as my dues are cleared,” says Kanhaiya Singh.

He has been working at the JSC for 15 years now, and says he followed due process in a bid to get his dues.“I spoke to my supervisor, who took our concerns to the contractors. When nothing happened, we wrote a letter to [member of legislative assembly] Pramila Tokas to look into the matter.”

Kanhaiya Singh’s supervisor Jitender Kumar says he is in the same boat as his workers. While he gets minimum wage payments, he too has not received his salary since October. “They have not cleared some of my payments," he said. "I have incurred out-of-pocket expenses of around Rs 50,000 for which I attached the bills and sent it to the contractors.” He is yet to receive reimbursements.

The Jan Suvidha Complex at RK Puram’s Dr Ambedkar Basti. The caretaker, safai karamchari and the supervisor have not received their wages since October 2023

JSC workers pay the price for regulatory violations by contractors

There is a lack of consistency in the pay received by the workers of the complexes across Delhi. The regulations state that the salaries of the caretaker and the staff should be paid in a timely manner through bank transfer directly into their individual accounts, as per the Minimum Wages Act. The amount transferred is determined based on the number of toilets and the frequency of usage. However, workers have alleged that contractors have been flouting the regulations and that their rights are being violated.

Raj Kumar has been working at the JSC in Inder Camp as a caretaker for the last one year. “I have not received my wages for the months of December and January,” he said. Furthermore, he stated that he was being paid by his contractor in cash. “I don’t know what the minimum wages are for us. I have been receiving Rs 9,000 as remuneration, in cash. I pay the safai karamachari Rs 3,000 out of the money I receive,” he said.

Nanke Singh, 38, who has been working as a caretaker at a Kalkaji JSC, has a similar story. “I have five members in my family. I make Rs 12,000 a month, of which I pay a portion to the safai karamchari, who has not received his wages.”

The supervisor, Avey Singh, reached out to the contractors on several occasions but was told that the bills are not being cleared from the department. He was also threatened with the loss of his job if he continued calling them for these issues. “I have not been working for the last 20 days," Singh said. "I called the contractors to inform them that the workers are demanding that their dues be cleared. I was told to keep quiet and continue working or quit altogether.”

Across JSCs, staffers that IndiaSpend spoke to allege non-compliance of regulations including timely payment as per the Minimum Wages Act, lack of social security as they have not been provided with provident fund accounts and ESIC cards. Further, the staff stated that cleaning supplies have not been provided for over two months, which has led them to spend out of pocket and in some places, the toilets remain as clean as they can be without supplies.

In September 2022, DUSIB had launched an integrated control room for monitoring its night shelters and toilet complexes following complaints regarding their poor maintenance. “If the facilities are unclean, the residents can call and complain. The officers will demand explanations from the staff at the JSC. More often than not, it is the contractor who fails to provide us with cleaning supplies,” says Govind Singh, 38, the caretaker at the 24-hour, 54-seater JSC in Kalkaji.

“It is my job to keep the premises and the toilets clean. But, for the last 2-3 months, I have not received any cleaning supplies,” he says, pointing out that it is impossible to clean a public toilet without supplies, and that he still tries to keep them clean to the best of his abilities.

Across JSCs, staffers that IndiaSpend spoke to stated that cleaning supplies have not been provided for over two months, which has led them to spend out of pocket and in some places, the toilets remain as clean as they can be without supplies

Passing the buck: Contractors to DUSIB

Bharatiya Manoj Jan Kalyan Samiti is an NGO that has the contract for 15 JSCs in South Delhi from 2022. When asked about the delay in payment of wages to the workers, president Manoj Singh passed the buck to DUSIB. “I have attached all the bills for the salaries of the workers, but the department has not cleared the dues. The officials told us that there are no funds, so there has been a delay in payments.”

“When we apply for tenders, we have to give a sense of our financial capacity to operate and manage the complex. My organisation is above and beyond its capacities in order to keep the JSCs functional, but if the bills are not cleared for months, we are unable to help the workers,” adds Manoj Singh.

In April 2023, the Union government had noted the delayed payment of monthly wages to contractual workers by the agencies and low deposit of provident fund and ESIC contributions of the workers. Following this, the Ministry of Labour and Employment recently incorporated six statutory obligations on the GeM (Government e Marketing) portal in the contract of hiring manpower through outsourcing agencies in Government of India offices, in order to protect the interest of the contractual workers. These obligations include mandatory contribution of provident fund and ESIC by the agencies in a timely manner.

“I don’t have an identity card," Nanke Singh told IndiaSpend. "The one that I had expired last year. I haven’t been told my EPF account number and neither have they provided any assistance for the ESIC card.”

The contractors' failure to follow regulations has led to an acute absence of social security for the workers employed at JSCs. “We got the contract in 2022," said Manoj Singh. "We contributed to the EPF accounts for the first two months.” Most of the workers do not have access to their EPF account numbers, we found.

P.K. Jha, Principal Director at DUSIB, blamed the contractors for the non-payment issues. “The department reimburses the contractors on actual basis once they share expense bills. When applying for tenders to run the facility, the contractor has to declare financial capability to keep the facility running if the department takes time to clear the bills,” Jha said when we spoke to him on February 2. “The NGOs/contractors are liable to pay the workers in a timely manner and to ensure no exploitation takes place. We have released the funds till the month of October 2023. If a worker has not been paid, the contractor is to be held accountable.”

Jha also stated that the contractors are accountable for contribution to the EPF and to ensure that workers have ESIC cards. “The contractor submits the bill for the same and we then release the funds," Jha said. "We are taking steps to look into this. We will be asking for an undertaking from the contractors along with the list of workers and the benefits they have received as a contractual worker.”

Ironically, in June 2018, the Delhi Government won the SKOCH Order-of-Merit for 'Jan Suvidha (Toilet) Complex Monitoring'. In its ‘outcome budget’ the following year, the Delhi Government boasted an increment of 431% in the use of public toilets in 2018-19 over 2016-17, with over 293,000 people provided access to the Jan Suvidha Complex.

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