WB: Acute land crisis puts shelter for urban homeless on hold

  • Sandip Chowdhury, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Jul 09, 2015 15:50 IST

Land in Bengal has always played a crucial political role. It both brought in and put an end to the much talked about 34-year-old Marxist government in 1977 and 2011.

And now, acute land crisis in Kolkata is acting as a major hindrance in implementing a Supreme Court order and enacting Modi government’s scheme for the poorest of the poor.

Mamata Banerjee’s men at Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) are not very keen on allocation of prime lands in the city for setting up shelter for urban homeless.

According to the central scheme guidelines location for such shelters should be close to areas where the poorest of poor congregate like railway stations, bus depots, terminals, markets and wholesale mandis etc.

“All these locations in a city like Kolkata are prime properties and who would like to allot these areas worth crores for such shelters for the urban homeless?” asked a senior civic official attached with the implementation of the scheme.

State Urban Development Agency (SUDA) has asked KMC to identify land for setting up eight shelters for the urban homeless and accordingly has allotted

RS. 1.1 crore as capital cost for each such shelter and Rs. 10 lakh each for running for next six years.

Although municipal commissioner Khalil Ahmed ordered all 16 borough executive engineers to identify land under their jurisdiction for this project not a single plot of land has been identified till date. “We cannot set up these centres for urban homeless in the middle of the road. Land is a major crisis in a metro like Kolkata. Moreover there are no Samaritans who would donate land for this cause,” said Swapan Samaddar, member, mayor-in-council (slum development and other social schemes).

According to the scheme, each such shelter should accommodate 50 to 100 homeless and a space of 50 sq ft should be allotted for every person staying. These shelters should be permanent allweather 24X7 shelters for urban homeless.

A senior KMC official added that the scheme would be funded on a 75-25 basis between the Centre and the state. “The scheme also says that a rent of 1/10 to 1/20 of the inmates’ income should be collected so as to bring in commitment of beneficiaries,” the MMiC told HT.

Since the Supreme Court verdict, KMC has already set up four night shelters for vagabonds, of which three are operational and managed by different NGOs in Kolkata. But the court order and the Centre’s scheme suggest that one shelter each for 1 million population should be set up and going by the 2011 census Kolkata should have 45 such shelters.

In reality the count is not even 10% of the numbers of shelters suggested, says a senior official working on implementation of the scheme.

According to a survey conducted in February this year by the KMC and an NGO, The Calcutta Samaritans, for the 2011 census, the city has around 37,500 homeless people.

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