“People are dying… each one of them has to be protected in this intense weather. It is not a normal matter (that) we can wait for two-three weeks,” said the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dalveer Bhandari on the plight of the homeless in the city.
Moved by the “avoidable deaths” of homeless people living on Delhi’s streets due to the cold wave, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the NCT Government to urgently provide them night shelters.
The court ordered the government to make arrangements for basic amenities such as water, blankets and toilets in night shelters by 5 pm Wednesday and do adequate publicity on electronic and other media to inform the intended beneficiaries about them.
It also asked the government to take the help of civil society groups and Harsh Mander, a special commissioner appointed by the court in a public interest litigation filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on prevention of starvation deaths and implementation of right to food.
The directions were issued on the basis of a report on the plight of the homeless people in Delhi.
The report was submitted by court commissioner N.C. Saxena and special commissioner Harsh Mander that indicted the Delhi government for its negligence in providing shelters to the homeless in the Capital leading to at least 8 deaths.
The report also attributed the deaths to malnutrition and hunger that made homeless and poor people susceptible to extreme weather conditions.
After perusing the report of the court-appointed panel, the bench had summoned Delhi Food Secretary Jayashree Raghuraman to explain the deaths in the post-lunch session.
Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran told the court that he had personally discussed the issue with the Delhi Government officials who said at least 45 shelters for homeless people were functioning in Delhi.
But senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, representing (PUCL), countered Parasaran and said there should have been at least 140 such night shelters in Delhi according to the latest Master Plan.
The bench, which appreciated urgent steps taken by the city government, suggested utilisation of vacant public buildings as night shelters to provide succor to homeless people in biting cold.
The court fixed January 27 to hear issues relating to issuance of Antyodaya Anna Yojana Cards to the poor.