With only a cloth wrapped around his thin frame, 17-year-old Ramswaroop Paswan was wandering in the streets of the state capital for dry woods to save himself and his three siblings from the cold weather.
Unable to find them, the boy and his brothers covered themselves with plastic sheets which they had found abandoned in the heap of garbage lying near Bhikhari Thakur overbridge. At night, when the cold became unbearable, they all made a blanket from jute bags and huddled under it. When it was still not enough, they collected the garbage lying there and lighted it to get much needed warmth.
Like Ramswaroop, more than 1 lakh people in Patna, Danapur and Patna City live in slums. Around 50,000 are homeless, mostly migrant labourers and rickshaw-pullers, who spend their nights under railway overbridges, flyovers, railway platforms, bus stations, verandahs of shopping complex, temples and on footpath.
Despite fall in mercury and chilly winds, the district administration has not made adequate arrangements of bonfires for the poor in the district. People are making their own arrangements by burning garbage or whatever they could lay their hands on to keep themselves warm.
Only a handful of bonfires can be seen at some crossings, but that too do not last beyond few hours owing to shortage of wood supply, leaving dwellers in the cold, literally. They pass the whole night shivering, waiting for the morning Sun, which, too, is ditching them. The worst sufferers are the pavement dwellers.
"It is the responsibility of Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) to make arrangements of bonfires in winter season, but this year the civic authorities have not made any such arrangements forcing the people, mostly from weaker sections of the society, to bear the onslaughts of chilly winds," said a pavement dweller.
Regretting the apathy of PMC officers, another slum dweller Radhey Shyam Manjhi said, "Hum log badi mushkil se raat guzarat hain. Alao jalane ka koi intizam nahin hai." (We pass our nights facing the cold conditions. There is no arrangement of bonfire). Though some bonfires can be seen at some places but they are being arranged by the local people.
Arshad, an electrician of Danapur said, "To keep warm, we cover our head and feet with polybags. We also make bonfires on our own by burning dry woods, twigs, leaves and tyre or whatever we could manage."
When Patna district magistrate Abhay Kumar Singh was contacted for his comments, he referred this correspondent to ADM (relief) S S Mishra. But despite repeated calls, Mishra did not pick up the phone. When asked if bonfires had been arranged for Tuesday night, the DM said he was not aware.