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Sleepless in the city

In north India, scores die every winter. Then why are states never ready with adequate number of shelters?
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2013 10:05 PM IST

The northern parts of the country are known for their biting cold winter months. The people know it, the state governments know it.

Yet every year, the state governments are caught napping when it comes to making arrangements like night shelters for the homeless during these difficult months. It's only the first week of January and already 107 people are dead in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Among all the states that face difficult winters, Delhi, many would hope, would be better equipped than the others. But that is not the case at all. In Delhi, there are 55,955 homeless people. This is the government estimate; NGOs claim that there are about 1.5 lakh homeless people.

There are only 150 night shelters, which can accommodate 14,000 people. So the others (41,995 people), many women and children among them, are left to fend for themselves.

The lackadaisical approach of the Delhi government has also come to the notice of the Delhi High Court. On Wednesday, the high court reminded the city government that it is the duty of the State to protect the homeless from the cold and directed it to increase the number of night shelters.

It also asked the government to make the shelters in areas where poor people work, and not in the outskirts of the city after an NGO claimed that the shelters were mostly in Rohini and Narela.

But the attitude of the Delhi government, or for that matter other state governments, when it comes to homeless people is hardly inspiring. Just before the 2010 Commonwealth Games, in a last-minute bid to spruce up the city, the Delhi government had demolished night shelters meant for poor people.

Even at that time, the Delhi High Court reminded the city government that under the law, it is their obligation to provide night shelters to homeless people in the capital and reminded the Municipal Corporation of Delhi of its obligation to the vulnerable population.

Here is what a homeless man told a Hindustan Times reporter when asked why he thought such court strictures didn't have any effect: "We are not a vote-bank... so we don't matter. It really doesn't matter whether we live or die."

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