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Ground Report: People Deprived of Shelter Homes in Delhi's Freezing Cold

The temperature of the Capital is chilling cold, private schools have been closed. The Delhi government claims that shelter homes have been arranged for the poor, but the truth is something else....
Image Courtesy: Newsclick

New Delhi: In the bone-chilling winter of Delhi, when the temperature starts to turn cold and falls so much that it goes below 5 degrees, how will the day pass and how will the night be spent? People living in the comfort of their homes will be able to answer this, but what about those living on footpaths and roadsides, who, after spending the whole day amid the traffic noise, start looking for a warm corner as night falls so that the next morning they can make some arrangements to fill their stomachs.

Newsclick’s team visited some streets of Delhi after 11 p.m to see and feel how difficult it is to sleep under a thin blanket with the sky as roof and when the temperature is freezing cold?

Be it the Kashmiri Gate, or Chandni Chowk area…. Sarai Kale Khan or the Nizamuddin area, people could be seen on the streets everywhere. Some were seen touching crouching under the gunny sacks, while some tried to sleep under a thin blanket.

When we touched the body of a 55-year-old man lying on a membrane-thin sheet to try and talk to him, it was as if lightning had struck him. His leg, which had a metal rod inserted, started moving, probably at the thought of a rare human touch. He raised his hand and put it on this reporter’s head and asked: “Son will you come again tomorrow?”, to which I had no answer at that moment.

Next, we saw a 17-18 year old boy defecating by the roadside. He saw us, and before we could talk to him, he got under a blanket smaller than himself and pretended to sleep so that we would not ask him anything.

We lost count of the number of women, men and youth we saw, who were trying to spend the night, clutching their own bodies to get some sense of warmth in the biting cold.

Seeing some people awake, we asked them questions like who gives you blankets? What work do you do? Where are you from? And the most important question: when the government has set up night shelters, why don't you go there?

Now, the answer to the last and most important question was that most of these people said they do not go to the night shelter because entry is closed after 7-8 p.m. Even if they do manage to reach there somehow, there have been instances of people beating them up and taking away their meagre belongings. For women, night shelters are not considered safe. So, they are sent away after being that there is no space left.

After listening to these poor people, when we went to find the state of night shelters. The one built in Meenabazar near Red Fort was almost empty.

There were some cots that were being shared by two people. When we spoke to the caretaker there, he told us that some people were yet to come. That was around 1:30 in the night. The reader can conclude who would come here in such severe cold at 1:30 in the night?

When we reached Sarai Kale Khan, there were two night shelters, both locked from inside. This is when hundreds of people were sleeping on the streets right in front of these shelters. The question is: If people have to sleep outside, what is the point of night shelters?

Second, if people are afraid of sleeping in night shelters, then what are the arrangements for their security?

According to Vipin Rai, member of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), there are 197 shelters across Delhi. In view of the winter, 250 temporary tents have been set up in different areas in which beds, blankets etc. are arranged. About 190 shelter homes have been built in Delhi so far, which include areas like Nizamuddin, Sarai Kale Khan, Kashmiri Gate, AIIMS, Yamuna Pushta, Bangla Sahib etc.

Rai said complete arrangements have been made for people to stay in these tents. Those who live on the streets or do not have any place to stay, they stay in these shelters. A tent with 100 beds has also been set up near Nizamuddin railway station. He said a separate night shelter had also been built for women.

According to Rai, till January 4 i.e. Wednesday, more than 8,000 people took shelter in these homes across Delhi.

This department (DUSIB) of the Delhi government has divided Delhi into 15 zones and claims that rescue vans help people by patrolling different areas.

Rai claims that the number of homeless people increases on Delhi streets from December 15 to January 15, because the better off people donate things, like blankets and warm clothing during this weather, so people prefer to be seen on the streets.

He also claimed that people without ID proof are also allowed to stay in shelter homes. Also, the police comes from time to time and check these places to spot any suspicious person.

However, many claims made by Rai were found to be falling short when NewsClick took a round of some shelters, be it getting shelter without ID proof, or rescuing people lying on the roads.

For instance, a woman sleeping on the road near Chandni Chowk told us that without ID they do not allow to enter inside the shelter. And the claim of rescue seems weak after seeing hundreds of people sleeping outside some night shelters.

It is clear that the reality on the ground is far different from what is made out. The truth is that people have no option but to sleep on the roadsides in the freezing cold in the Capital of the country.

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