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Lok Sabha elections bring good tidings for Delhi’s homeless but many are left out

In this election, 6,960 people who do not have a home will be voting in the city. Unofficial estimates put the number of homeless in the lakhs.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 30, 2019 13:22 IST
Vatsala Shrangi
Vatsala Shrangi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
lok sabha elections 2019,chandni chowk lok sabha constituency,shelters for homeless in delhi
Mohammed Khalid, 42, (right), who lives in a night shelter for the homeless in Delhi, will vote for the first time in this Lok Sabha election.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

Mohammed Khalid, 42, has not voted even once.

“My family had been living on the streets of Urdu Bazar for generations. After my parents died, I went to Bombay to look for work. I returned to Delhi around 15 years ago but had never got an election card made,” said Khalid, who pulls a rickshaw for a living.

Till a few years ago, Khalid and his family of six slept on the stairs leading to the majestic Jama Masjid in the Walled City. After an injury he suffered in an accident, however, he lives in a night shelter (called rain basera) in a park in Meena Bazaar.

This year, a number of officials had come to register people on the electoral roll from the night shelter,” said Khalid. “I also registered. The government has set up these night shelters, but how does one provide for a family with meagre income. They should also provide work opportunities so that one can live a life of dignity and casting one’s vote would have a meaning.”

In this election, 6,960 people who do not have a home will be voting in the city. Unofficial estimates put the number of homeless in the lakhs.

Sunil Kumar Aledia, an activist who works for the homeless said, “The voter registration exercise does not include all the homeless for lack of valid identity proofs, even though it is clearly notified that no proof is required for issuing voter-ID to a person.”

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According to the Delhi state election office that mapped the 11 revenue districts, the Central district has maximum such voters at 3,117, followed by North at 1,113. Both districts are under the Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency.

“The survey was carried out at all the government-run shelters and homes run by NGOs and other institutions. Most have old voter-IDs that have not been updated. For those who don’t, we get them to fill forms,” said officials at the Delhi chief electoral office (CEO).

Old Delhi area houses a huge commercial centre that engages a large labour workforce providing daily wages jobs.

Reshma Khatoon, a resident of the nearby shelter, said elections mean good news for the people in the “jamghat” (referring to the shelter).

“Elections and the month of Ramzan are the times when life is good. We get food, clothing and enough money to feed our children. But after elections, we are forgotten. This time we have planned to tell them to give us houses, else we won’t vote for anyone,” said Khatoon.

Also Read | Kids at night shelters now get a chance at education

Homeless women at a shelter home near Jama Masjid, in New Delhi, Thursday, April 25, 2019. ( Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO )

Most residents said they were happy with the AAP government in the city.

“We have mattresses and a cemented floor now for the last two years. Earlier, there were wooden slabs in place of a floor from where rats and other rodents would creep up on the mats. Also, there are toilets and an LED television. They have set up a kitchen space in the compound. It is far better than how we used to live before. We may vote for Kejriwal (Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal),” said Beenu, 37, who lives here with her three children.

Some others said they were relieved their children go to school and get not only food but also good education.

However, some people said the Congress party was the first to get them a shelter and even voter ID cards. Most didn’t know the names of the candidates in fray for the upcoming elections but the area resonated with a Congress-BJP fight with some competition from AAP.

Many others said the BJP provided vocational training .

Four-time Lok Sabha MP and veteran Congress leader JP Agarwal, who has represented Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency thrice said, a multipronged approach is needed for ensuring people living at the margins get their rights.

“We have been working to provide housing and means of livelihood to people on the margins. Once we are back in government, we will again work for their welfare, “said Agarwal,74.

AAP’s Pankaj Gupta said, so far there have only been half-baked solutions to this deep-rooted problem of joblessness for the unskilled masses.

“Our government has promised a house for every family if we achieve statehood. In the meanwhile, we have thought of providing complete infrastructure for skill centres where people could be imparted job-oriented skills and take care of their daily wages in the meantime,” said Gupta, who will be contesting an election for the first time.

Union environment minister and BJP MP Harsh Vardhan said, a lot of the work in this sphere falls in the ambit of the Delhi government.

“As a parliamentarian I will take every step in my capacity to find a solution their issues. However, this is the basic job of a city government. Next year in the Delhi Assembly elections with the ouster of the AAP we will come out with a solution for the issue in a scientific and methodical way,” said Vardhan.

First Published: Apr 30, 2019 13:03 IST