Unable to bear the cold and haunted by a death in the group, 25 homeless people cleared a garbage dump in south Delhi and pitched two tents for shelter at night. Three days later, they are again staring at cold nights, out in the open.
Authorities want the group — left homeless after their slum cluster near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was razed ahead of the Commonwealth Games — to move from the dump near the Lodhi institutional area.
Zubeida Begum and 25 others were living in the open but on January 5 one of the men died of cold.
With no place available in the packed Lodhi Road night shelter, they turned to an NGO, which has an office in the area, for help.
"These people have been sleeping on the footpaths for the past few months. As it grew cold in the last few days, we decided to clear the garbage dump and put up a temporary shelter,” said Indu Prakash Singh, technical adviser to Indo-Global Social Service Society that set up the makeshift shelter.
On January 6 when the city shivered in winter rain, the group moved into the shelter.
"One person died of cold. Now, at least we have a roof over our heads," said Raj Kumar, a rickshaw puller who stays in the shelter.
Though temporary, the arrangement was guarding them against cold, said Singh. "Had the government constructed adequate number of permanent shelters, we wouldn't been forced to take such a step."
As soon as the tarpaulins were in place, police officials came for an inspection. "They asked us to remove the sheets as we didn't have the permission, but we refused to comply," said Singh.
Police officials said they wanted to check if the group had encroached land. "We just wanted to make sure that it wasn't illegal," said a senior official on condition of anonymity.
The city has 132 night shelters -- 54 short of the 186 ordered by the high court -- that can accommodate 12,400 people. Estimates put the number of homeless in the Capital at 1.5 lakh.
Recently, the Supreme Court took states, including Delhi, to task for failing to comply with its 2009 order on night shelters. States have been asked to file detailed response by January 14.