Civic unions allege delay in compensation

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While the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking has provided jobs to kin of four employees who died of COVID-19, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is yet to provide similar relief to its staff.

According to municipal unions, at least 12 civic employees engaged in essential work have succumbed to the virus so far, and none of their families have received compensation. The BMC does not have a group insurance scheme for its employees and is merely covering hospitalisation cost up to ₹2 lakh.

Usually, if a civic employee dies on duty, his next of kin is given a job. The Central government in March had announced insurance cover of ₹50 lakh for healthcare workers on COVID-19 duty. The BMC, on April 17, announced compensation of ₹10 lakh per employee on such duty who died of the virus, including contract staff.

So far, the BMC has said the virus has claimed five employees. The Municipal Mazdoor Union, however, puts the figure at 12. The Municipal Engineers’ Union has demanded that the BMC release the number of COVID-19 patients and victim among its staff. The BEST and Mumbai Police have been issuing this information, but the BMC has not.

Pradeep Narkar of the Municipal Mazdoor Union said, “Neither healthcare workers’ families nor those of non-health staffers have received any compensation from the government or the BMC respectively. In such cases, most family members are in quarantine and have lost a breadwinner.”

The BMC has cited procedural delays as the reason for the compensation being held up. In case of an assessment inspector from G North ward, who died while engaged in food distribution work, officials said his family had been in quarantine for 14 days, which prevented them from processing the application. “We will soon and submit it for approval. He qualifies for ₹10 lakh compensation and his wife will be offered a job,” said Sangeeta Hasnale, assistant municipal commissioner (assessment).

The BMC is also yet to process the application of the family of a SWM department mukadam from F South ward.

Milind Sawant, deputy municipal commissioner (general administration), said, “I have asked the departments concerned to put up proposals for compensation. There are some grey areas in the Centre’s scheme, such as what qualifies as COVID-19 work. Besides, the death certificate will have to mention cause of death as COVID-19. We can process applications for ₹10 lakh, but if the family is eligible for ₹50 lakh, we will try for that first.”

The civic body had a group insurance scheme for its employees several years ago, which deducted a premium from employees’ salaries. The scheme was discontinued a few years ago after allegations of employees being fleeced.

“In the absence of insurance cover, we are providing medical reimbursement up to ₹2 lakh to all employees being treated. This is a stop-gap arrangement until we finalise an insurance company. We have not received any application for COVID-19 related medical expenses so far,” said Mr. Sawant. Even providing a cover of ₹2 lakh will cost the BMC around ₹100 crore.

“This is a stop-gap arrangement until we finalise an insurance company. We have not received any application for COVID-19 expenses so far,” he said. Even provoding a ₹2 lakh cover will cost the BMC around ₹100 crore, which is why it is hoping to appoint an insurance company soon.

While civic employees are treated for free in public hospitals, most are unable to find a bed there any more. “In desperation, families admit them to private hospitals. For COVID-19, minimum hospitalisation is for a week. What will ₹2 lakh do? The BMC should at least cover up to ₹10 lakh,” said Sainath Rajyadhyaksha, secretary of the Municipal Engineers’ Union.

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