India must ensure that homeless people have access to housing options | analysis | Hindustan Times
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India must ensure that homeless people have access to housing options

analysis Updated: Aug 20, 2016 17:28 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
homeless in Delhi

Bilal, 80, came to India from Pakistan 25 years ago. He is now a regular in one of the rain baseras (night shelters) near Nizamuddin. (Subrata Biswas/HT)

India has the largest number of urban poor and landless people in the world. The Hindustan Times’ special series on Delhi’s homeless people documents how they battle rape, stigma and drugs on a daily basis.

According to the 2011 census, approximately 13.75 million households or approximately 65-70 million people reside in urban slums. In some cities, such as Mumbai, those residing in slums represent closer to 50% of the urban population and cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata account for more than 50% of total households living in slums in India.

Read | Delhi’s homeless: Nameless, forsaken even in their death

The neglect of homeless populations in India has been well documented by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court appointed to track the implementation of the court decision and subsequent orders on the right to food nationally. “Government at central and state level appear to treat this very visible population as invisible,” said Leilani Farha, special Rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, appointed by the United National Human Rights Council, during her India tour in April.

Read | Delhi govt to build 15,000 houses for homeless

Farha made some substantial recommendations on how India should proceed to tackle the issue of homeless people.

Here is a sampler: First, identify and address the structural causes of homelessness; second, a national moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions should be introduced; third, enhanced policy coherence and convergence between housing schemes in urban and rural areas and schemes for the provision of water and sanitation; fourth, the central and state governments should put in place effective and timely mechanisms to collect data on evictions, including with disaggregation of the persons who are evicted by age, gender, disability, caste and religion.

“I also note that there is no national law, policy or programme in place to ensure homeless people has access to medium- and long-term housing options. They are not, for example, included in the Housing for All Scheme,” she added.

But some states are experimenting with new models for tackling the problem. Rajasthan has adopted a progressive policy whereby emergency shelters are the first step toward rehabilitation, offering skill training to residents and assisting them to transition to employment and long-term housing options, a model that other city authorities are taking on board as well, for example in Delhi.

Watch | Is the Delhi government turning a blind eye to the homeless?