150,000 homeless in Delhi, no shelter for women


New Delhi : An estimated 150,000 people are homeless in the national capital, nearly 10,000 destitute women have not even one designated shelter, and with a harsh winter forecast, matters are only going to get worse, say the NGOs campaigning for the homeless.

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“In a city that prides itself on its inspirational ‘world-class’ status, it is a glaring failure of the state that so many people continue to be forced to live on the streets without any available recourse,” says Paramjeet Kaur, director of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), which aims to empower and mobilise the homeless.

“Even more horrifying is the fact that there is not even one shelter for the city’s over 10,000 homeless women.”

Though the city tends to blame the homeless for their own plight and washes its hands of all legal and moral responsibility to protect and provide for them, it fails to address the structural and systemic factors that lead to homelessness, maintains Indu Prakash Singh, Theme Leader (Shelters & Housing) of ActionAid.

“The most critical of these are the non-existence of low cost and public housing, large-scale eviction drives and slum demolitions without adequate livelihood-based rehabilitation and resettlement, and shift in land-use towards intensive infrastructure development such as highways and shopping malls,” asserts Singh.

“The government’s current focus is on rapid urban renewal and city beautification at the cost of the poor.”

Activists point out that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi runs only 10 permanent shelters for the homeless catering to around 2500 people, leaving over 98 percent of the city’s homeless to fend for themselves or be provided for by NGOs such as AAA which runs seven shelters.

In contrast, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation – supposedly India’s richest civic body – runs not a single shelter. The only shelter for homeless women in Delhi’s Yamuna Pushta, which was being run on a contractual basis by AAA for the MCD, was closed in June this year on grounds that the space was needed to store material for building a city centre nearby.

According to Shivani Chaudhry, associate coordinator of the Housing and Land Rights Network, the issue is not of paucity of funds or absence of space but of a complete lack of priority and concern.

“When the government can manage to raise money in the magnitude of Rs.105.71 billion for the first phase of the Delhi Metro, over Rs.10 billion for the high capacity bus corridor, and over Rs.52 billion for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, including the provision of free land for stadiums and other construction, why can’t it allocate funds and find space for public housing and shelters for the homeless?” she queries.

“The fact that there is no government data on homeless people in Delhi also reflects the government’s appalling negligence towards the issue. Existing estimates of the number of Delhi’s homeless are from the civil society,” insists Kaur.

“As Human Rights Day approaches on Dec 10, it is a matter of national shame that the country’s capital does not have shelters for the homeless.”

The groups have demanded reservation of land and earmarked funds for housing for all low-income groups, a halt to slum demolitions and forced evictions in the city, legal security of tenure to all slum dwellers, and their participation in the development of all city plans, including housing.