Localities in East Delhi may be looking at a garbage crisis ahead of Diwali as sanitation workers – known as safai karamcharis – continued their strike on Thursday over non-payment of dues. Residents also fear the diseases that may spread because of piled-up waste.

The Swachhta Karamchari Union had called for an indefinite strike from Wednesday, saying that its members had not been paid salaries, bonuses and arrears due from 2003, the Hindustan Times reported. Sanjay Gehlot, the president of the union, said most of its members had joined the protest.

The association claims to be the biggest workers’ union of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation, with 11,000 members.

East Delhi Mayor Neema Bhagat, however, said the workers had been paid their salaries and bonuses, but were now resorting to “blackmailing tactics”. Gehlot said these were “false claims” as only “some workers got their salary and most have not been paid”, according to The Indian Express.

Some of the city’s most populated localities are located in East Delhi, including Mayur Vihar, Patparganj, Gandhi Nagar, Krishna Nagar, New Ashok Nagar and Laxmi Nagar. These areas generate around 2,800 tonnes of garbage every day, according to the Hindustan Times report.

“Our demands include payment of due salaries to various employees, arrears and medical cashless card, retirement benefits and pension,” Gehlot was quoted as saying by PTI. “We will burn the effigy of [East Delhi] Mayor Neema Bhagat and throw garbage in front of her house.”

The union leader said they had met authorities of the civic body, who said they were “facing a financial crunch”. “The corporation will make all possible efforts to fulfil their demands, including the one about issuing a cashless card,” East Delhi Mayor Bhagat had said on Wednesday, according to PTI.

Sanitation workers had staged a similar protest in January, which had left Delhi with garbage-strewn roads and a stench in the air. Back then, 16,000 municipal employees had gone on strike over similar demands.