Delhi’s homeless prefer sheltering sky to night shelters

By Rashi Aggarwal, IANS,

New Delhi : It’s the monsoon when intermittent rains are the order of the day – or night – and roads are often waterlogged and damp. Yet, the capital’s many homeless and even beggars say they can be choosers and opt to stay away from the government’s night shelters because they are in a state of complete disrepair.

Support TwoCircles

Delhi has about 60 night shelters, of which about 17 are permanent structures while 43 are termed temporary. Not enough for the capital’s official 70,000 homeless (NGOs put the number at 150,000), but supposed to help out at least some of those desperately in need for shelter at night.

They are used by rickshaw pullers, balloon and vegetable sellers, beggars, migrant workers and labourers. Many of the capital’s poor say they avoid them because they are ill maintained, lack water supply and electricity and are in a state of decay.

Earlier this week, a temporary tented night shelter collapsed in Chandni Chowk in old Delhi on Tuesday after a bout of heavy rains. Nearly a dozen people were trapped but luckily no one was seriously injured.

The accident was waiting to happen, activists say. Agrees Savitri, who was in the shelter when it came crashing down.

“For the past three months, there has been no electricity, no water. The mats are wet and no new mats have been provided. Some of them have even started smelling bad with earthworms in them,” she says.

During the rains, water enters the shelter, she says, labelling the shelters “inhuman”.

Cash-strapped NGOs tasked with the upkeep of the shelters say they too are helpless because they haven’t been paid by the government.

According to Ashok Pandey of the Beghar Sangharsh Samiti foundation, which has been looking after the welfare of homeless for around 10 years, the authorities have not paid them since February this year.

“We have not been paid for over six months now. In order to help the homeless we used our money to maintain the shelters but now even we are running out of money,” Pandey told IANS.

Pramod from the NGO Khushi adds that several applications and letters have been sent to Mission Convergence, which he says is the authority supposed to pay them, but there has been no response.

Amod Kumar of St Stephens Hospital, the governing body of all the NGOs, also says that they have not been paid since February.

“It’s true that the NGOs have not been paid by the government. There are several reasons behind it,” he says.

“Steps are being taken to facilitate the payment.”

The government in July this year had approached the Delhi High Court to remove temporary shelters, which used to be set up only during winters.

The reasons cited were that most of them lie vacant and entail huge costs. The appeal was, however, rejected.

“By not paying the NGOs, the government is forcing us to close the shelters…It is but a conspiracy of the government,” says social worker Dhananjay Tingal.

While permanent night shelters are relatively in good shape, the temporary ones are going from bad to worse, NGO workers say.

Delhi government officials could not be reached for comments. An official of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board disconnected the line when IANS sought his comments.

The Delhi government spends around Rs.45 lakh on temporary shelters every month. This amounts to about Rs.1 lakh for each shelter, NGOs believe.

Of this, NGOs that look after the facilities, cleanliness and management of the shelters are paid Rs.24,400 per month per shelter, explains Amod Kumar.

(Rashi Agarwal can be contacted at [email protected])