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Comfortably numb

Instead of blankets, the Delhi government gave out sheets of bubble wrap to the poor. Cold comfort that.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2011 22:50 IST

We know that our governments have a dismal record when it comes to finding innovative solutions for our countless problems. But among all the harebrained schemes that we have come across — and have written about — this one takes the gong. To counter the city's bone-chilling winter, every year the Delhi government sets up shelters for homeless people and gives them blankets. But this year, the babus decided to do away with that old practice of distributing blankets and instead gave away sheets of bubble wrap to the poor. Their logic: drug addicts among the homeless sell off blankets to sustain their habit. But what about the others (including children, women and the aged) who depend on those blankets to survive the cold nights? No answers were given. We just heard a few popping bubbles from the wraps.

Thankfully, after this paper published a report on this extr-aordinary effort by the Delhi government's bureaucrats — who may have been curling their toes to trap more hot air — urban development minister AK Walia swung into action and admitted gravely that indeed "bubble wrap can't replace blankets" and those plastic sheets were only meant to dew-proof the belongings of the poor. The explanation does sound a bit thin and worn out, doesn't it? According to a 2008 estimate, 150,000 sleep rough in the freezing cold in the city and at the peak of winter, four people on an average die of cold in Delhi every day. Last winter, it took a nudge from the court for the government to set up 84 shelters. On Wedn-esday, it was the Delhi High Court again that pulled up the government for shutting down the temporary shelters despite its orders.

So who proposed and passed this idea of providing bubble wraps? We don't know. But what we do know is that one way to stop the flow of such ‘innovative' ideas is to make the concerned officials participate in a dry-run of their policies. This year's theme for them could be: One night at a night shelter.