The homeless, especially women, have no place to go to during the winters in the capital.
Despite a large population of the homeless, including women, unable to access night shelters in Delhi, not a single night shelter has been added by the Arvind Kejriwal government in the past two years. This has been revealed in a reply to a query filed by Delhi BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana under the Right to Information Act.
Revealing the contents of the reply received by him, Khurana said the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) in reply to the RTI filed by him revealed that there were 263 night shelters which were operational on February 14, 2015 when the Kejriwal government was sworn in for the second time and the number remained the same as on December 31, 2016.
As for the occupancy at these night shelters, Khurana said the DUSIB website noted that a total of 10,755 people were staying in these night shelters on December 31, 2016.
Khurana, who is son of former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana, claimed that while the AAP government talks about “poor people”, it actually does little for their well being. In another tweet he said “111 people died because of cold and all were poor people sleeping in cold nights”.
The issue of night shelters and facilities provided in them has been a raging one and every year during winters it figures prominently in political and social discussions. Thousands of people use them to take shelter from the bitter cold in the capital.
According to the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office, the population of homeless in Delhi stood at about two lakh in 2011 whereas the census had estimated it to be 46,724 in the same year. As such the number of people availing of these shelters is minuscule in comparison to the numbers who actually need them. The problem is more acute with homeless women, as there are only 21 night shelters for them.
There are 261 night shelters operating in Delhi this winter, which include 21 meant solely for women. In fact following a visit to night shelters in May 2016, Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal had observed that their safety during their stay in these shelters was precarious.
“We have received a complaint regarding the safety of women living in night shelters. To some extent we found it correct. We stayed the entire night in a night shelter. The girls are living in precarious conditions, their safety is at huge risk,” she had told reporters.
With over 300 deaths of the homeless taking place in Delhi every year, the courts have been seized of the issue of condition of night shelters for the past many years.
The Supreme Court had in November 2016 also directed the constitution of a committee headed by former Delhi high court judge Justice Kailash Gambhir to verify the availability of night shelters, if they were in compliance with the operational guidelines under National Urban Livelihoods Mission, the reason behind the slow progress in setting up of shelter homes by various states and union territories, and the non-utilisation, diversion or misutilisation of funds allocated under the scheme for providing shelters to the urban homeless.
Directing that the Gambhir panel submit its report within four months, the apex court had also noted that it would issue “suitable recommendations to the States” to ensure that at least temporary shelters are provided for the homeless in urban areas to protect them during winter season.”
The Gambhir committee had subsequently while reviewing the condition of night shelters in Delhi, pulled up the Delhi Board for not doing enough for the inmates of night shelters, particularly in the light of the death of five inmates reported from various shelters.
The panel had observed that in most of the shelters the key issue was the conduct of caretakers appointed to look after them. Several NGOs have complained about skirmishes between caretakers and the homeless being a regular affair. Some of them, like NGO Shahri Adhikar Manch: Begharon ke Liye have even suggested that the government have conduct training sessions for the caretakers. At the same time plans are also being drawn up to provide skill development programmes at these centres for the homeless to make them skilful, employable and job-ready.
For its part, the Delhi government has also been focusing on improving the quality of services at these night shelters. It has started installing geysers in some of them and also opened skill centres in several of them but recent reports have suggested that overall the condition of most of these centres remains pathetic as they remain damp and dirty. However, the lack of new shelters means thousands of homeless are still not served by this facility.