With the temperature dipping and the pandemic raging on, the Delhi government has made an ambitious promise of establishing 250 shelters across the city for slum dwellers. In a marked shift from last year’s 70 shelters, the Arvind Kejriwal-led government had stated that the 250 shelters will be up and running by November 20, and then the date was extended to December 1.
To analyse the situation on the ground, a team of members from the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) surveyed multiple locations across the city and found that many shelters were not functional; even the opened ones were not functioning with sufficient bedding or space.
It appears that on World Human Rights Day (December 10), many would spend the cold night without a proper shelter in the national capital. It’s pertinent to note that after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the right to adequate housing was recognised as an integral part of the right to adequate standard of living.
The HLRN team travelled across Kalkaji, Sant Nagar, Haus Khas, Green Park, Sarai Kale Khan, Nizammudin, Yamuna Pushta and other locations on December 6. They found that barring AIIMS and Sant Nagar, shelters had not yet been set up in multiple locations. Hundreds of families living under the Nizamuddin flyover told the survey team that the shelters had not come up yet.
A resident of the area under the flyover, Iqbal, said, “We have been living here on the streets for the last 15 years. There is no space in the shelters, every year the shelters are put but this year the shelters have not been put.” Another resident added, “We don't have blankets, we want tents; the winter is extremely harsh on us, we do not even have any document on us, which means that we do not have any access to ration.”
The team reported that in Sant Nagar, although a shelter with 20 beds has come up, those occupying it could go up to 40 people per night. Similarly, in Nehru Place, while the established shelter had 32 beds, over a 100 people in the area were looking to occupy it.
Ashok Pandey, a member of the team inspecting the shelters, said, “Tent shelters have not been put up in many places for the homeless in Delhi. Women expressed a major concern for privacy; lactating women are facing a hard time locating a space that is safe, and women are being forced to take their bath out in the open. The claims that the government had made are not fulfilled as of now—the government had even promised three meals for those living in the shelters, but it is far from what is happening on the ground.”
In Delhi, only 37% of the population is covered under the Public Distribution System (PDS) and has ration cards, although nearly 70% of the population lives in slum or slum-like conditions. Large number of poor and marginalised persons have been excluded from the ambit of the PDS due to difficulties faced in getting a ration card, such as complex application procedures and insistence on furnishing of documents. Taking cognisance of this situation and the inspection of homeless shelters and interactions with homeless persons, the Delhi High Court has expressed concerns about the plight of the homeless and the condition in shelters.
The Delhi High Court has asked the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) to inspect afresh the night shelters run by it and take remedial steps at the earliest for improving the facilities there in view of the early onset of winters in the national capital.
The high court was informed by Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) that during the independent recce of the night shelters undertaken by it and on interaction with several persons who are reluctant to stay at the night shelters, certain issues were noticed, including low occupancy capacity, lack of creche facility and lack of cleanliness.
The Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Andolan stated that though a large number of people are living on the streets and their condition is extremely vulnerable given the onset of the winter, the occupancy of several of Delhi’s shelters for the homeless remains well below capacity.
Speaking to NewsClick, Shivani Chaudhry, Executive Director, Housing and Land Rights Network, said, "People living in homelessness suffer egregious violations of their human rights. We appreciate the efforts of the Delhi government to provide additional shelters and improved facilities for them during the winter. But the crisis of homelessness is a perennial one. Every day, living without a home is a challenge, each season is difficult to endure.” She further states, “Today, on Human Rights Day, we call for a shift in state policy to treat homeless persons as equal rights-holders and to prioritise adequate housing and social protection for them, to ensure they are able to live with dignity."