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Working for Delhi government, doing kar sewa

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By Sidharth Mishra

Ask somebody working with the Delhi government what’s happening, the reply more than often would be, “Doing Kar Sewa”. Now what’s doing Kar Sewa? More interestingly when did the word become part of the national vocabulary?

It was 1984, in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, that the word first became known outside Punjab. When the task to rebuild the portions of Golden Temple in Amritsar, which had got damaged during the operation to flush out terrorists, began, initiative was taken by a group of holy men to render ‘Kar Sewa’.

Kar Sewa, literally meaning voluntary service, is an integral part of Sikh religion. ‘Sarbat da Bhala’ meaning common good of all is one of the fundamental principles of the Sikhism. Thus voluntary service across the country for common good came to be called Kar Sewa.

However, over a period of time it also took a sarcastic hue, almost becoming a synonym for unrewarded work. That’s brings us to the context of Kar Sewa being done in the Delhi government. It started with the unpaid grants for the Delhi government funded Delhi University Colleges.

Over a period of time the menace of financial mismanagement has spread to the other departments too, be it the school teachers, the health workers and several others. Recently the doctors at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital went on strike for the unpaid salary. Since June, the resident doctors were working without salaries. They have returned to work with the promise that salaries would be credited in a week’s time.

In most of the Delhi government services, even if the salary is paid, it isn’t regular, it comes in tranches. The benefits like the medical allowances have been lying unpaid for months and in cases years.

The Lieutenant Governor’s office, diagnosed the problem of unpaid salaries to, what they say in private, recruiting the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) cadres in various unsanctioned positions. The latest being the deployment of Civil Defence Volunteers as Marshals in the DTC buses.

The services of these volunteers as fulltime bus marshals has been terminated as they form part of the reserve volunteer force and can be employed only on short-term basis during the time of disaster. Arvind Kejriwal government on the other hand has been using these volunteers on a full-term basis, even sanctioning for them ‘police-like’ khaki uniforms.

These uniforms were withdrawn after Delhi Police objected citing cases of these volunteers misusing khaki to extort money in name of fines and threatening such other punitive actions. Due to the lack of funds, or the legal sanction to release funds, these volunteers working as marshals in buses have not been paid for the past six months. Now they stand to be terminated.

Similar has been the issue with the personal staff of the chief minister and the large contingent of consultants employed by the government. Delhi Jal Board in July this year, on the directions of the services department, stopped the release of salary of all its the contractual staff. Most of the people whose salary was withheld were part of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s personal staff. Such contractual staff in the other government undertakings too have been shown the door.


And now the turn of the civil defence volunteers. The government has moved a note that given the nature of appointment, volunteers be replaced by home guards as the bus marshals. The home guards can only come in if the volunteers vacate the positions. And there is a big skirmish on who takes the blame for civil defence volunteers losing their ‘job’, even if for the past six months it has been nothing more than a ‘Kar Sewa’ that is unpaid service.


(First Published in The Morning Standard)


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