While the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) was scrambling to set up new night shelters for the homeless on Thursday, a community centre in Motia Khan, where a shelter was to be set up, was empty.
When Hindustan Times visited the site, all there was to be seen was a lock on the gate.
“No one has come here since morning. The centre doesn’t even have a watchman,” said Ajit Singh (40), the watchman of Punjabi Academy in the same building.
MCD’s nodal officer Kundan Lal, who was looking after the work in Paharganj and Motia Khan, said, “All the centres in this area will have mattresses and blankets by 12 a.m.” The civic body looks after most of the night shelters in the city.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday had ordered the Delhi government to provide shelter to the homeless by evening. There are some 150,000 homeless people in the Capital.
The civic body had earlier announced that it would be setting up 37 night shelters by Thursday night.
In Paharganj, work was being conducted at a feverish pace to meet the deadline. The scene was similar in another commercial complex, also in Motia Khan.
“We have been working since the afternoon and have managed to get potable water and portable toilets in place. The blankets, rugs and mattresses are also ready,” said B.P. Rana, a junior engineer with the MCD, who was present at the location. “We are waiting for the homeless now.”
“The shelters will be set up in community halls and corporation buildings and can accommodate 4,920 homeless persons, including 410 women and children,” said MCD spokesman Deep Mathur.
“Some of the shelters are already operational while the others will be ready by tomorrow.”
The homeless, too, seemed hopeful about the new shelters.
Ashok (40), who is a painter and used to stay at another shelter, said, “Since this (Paharganj shelter) is a new facility, I decided to shift here. There will be cleaner toilets and more blankets here, since there are very few people.”
Paramjeet Kaur of the Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan, which manages almost half the 17 government-run permanent shelters, said though there is an urgent need to build more shelters, equal emphasis should be given on increasing awareness about these shelters amongst the homeless.
“Last night in our Fatehpuri night shelter, there were 136 occupants. Its capacity is for 400 people. While I can't generalise the trend because at times it overflows with people, there is a need for more awareness,” she said.