Severe cold & poor facilities responsible for homeless deaths: CHD

172 homeless succumbed to Delhi winter this year


February 8, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Severe cold & poor facilities responsible for homeless deaths: CHD

Homeless people are forced to sleeping on footpaths, under bridges and other odd locations during winters in Delhi (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Rising temperatures after a severe cold snap that had gripped the national capital this year have come as a huge relief to all denizens of Delhi and its surroundings. But few would have been as relieved as the thousands of homeless who have made streets their home and are the first to face the brunt of vagaries of severe weather phenomenon – be it severe cold, excessive rain or an especially warm summer. But the winter is the most mortal of them all and claims dozens, if not hundreds, of lives each year as the homeless are most often left to fend for themselves.

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Delhi’s winters are famous for two things – neither of them very pleasant for the residents. One is the massive smog that envelopes the city’s already toxic atmosphere, pushing the particulate matter levels beyond scale. The other is the sharp dip in thermometres that is seen every year, but has been extremely severe this year as Delhi battled with a winter that broke many records, including the longest-lasting cold spell as well as temperatures that crashed to 1.1°C.

These unforgiving temperatures, coupled with several days of fairly heavy showers in Delhi has led to more than 172 deaths, says Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), an NGO that has been working with the homeless for many years. However, government officials deny the claims and said no such deaths have taken place.

Witnessing such staggering numbers, the organisation also wrote to Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, who is also the chairperson of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), the government entity responsible for providing shelter to the homeless, requesting that proper arrangements be made for such people during winters. The organisation said that as Delhi attracts thousands of migrant workers from all over the country, expensive housing and lack of means of the workers force them to live on the street and fend for themselves. 

People cooking on the streets (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Though the government says it has created numerous shelter homes across the city for the homeless, CHD says that the facilities are far from adequate in terms of numbers as well as the quality. It says that due to an unusually harsh winter coupled with sub-standard and low capacity of these shelter homes, cold has become one of the leading causes of death among the homeless. 

“In 2014, DUSIB surveyed the homeless in which 16,760 homeless people were found sleeping on the street. If we go by these figures and see the number of shelter homes in Delhi then we can see that it violates the National Rural Livelihood Mission as well as the Covid-19 guidelines,” says CHD in the letter to Kejriwal.

“Even if we go by the government data there are 304 shelter homes with 4000 beds, in which according to DSUIB there are 9,240 spots for the homeless residents to sleep. There are 7,520 surplus people who have to sleep on the road along with the elements, we request you to ensure surplus provisions for these people especially during the winters,” the letter adds.

“Apart from the governmental data in the city of Delhi, more than 100,000 people have slept outside on the road. And when we did the survey, we found that at the Jawahar labour site, Kashmere Gate, Yamuna Pusta, Ningam Bodh Ghat, Lohe Ka Pul or Old Yamuna Bridge, Jamuna Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Delhi Gate, Asif Ali Road, Jama Masjid, Azadpur, Okhla, Bali, Kingsway Camp, Nizamuddin, Sarai Kale Khan, hundreds of people were found sleeping in the open in large numbers,” adds the letter.

However, the DUSIB denied the claims and blamed the deaths of the homeless on other factors such as accidents, diseases, alcohol and drug-related problems. As per the DUSIB website, there are a total of 9,330 spots available for the homeless to sleep as of January 29, 2022. However, 2011 census data shows there are a total of 1.7 million homeless people living in India out of which 47,076 live in the national capital. 

“For over two decades we have been working for shelter rights, which ensures a roof over the heads of people who migrate to the city and have no place to turn to. For many years we have witnessed that many people die on the streets, this survey is always relevant as almost everyday people die on the streets. People living on the streets and inside these shelters don’t get any health facilities, which contributes to their hardships. Such people come under the ‘most vulnerable’ category as they have to bear the hardships of changing weather, malnutrition and lack of other basic needs due to which they suffer and die on the streets,” Sunil Kumar Aledia, Executive Director of CHD tells Media India Group,

“Whenever someone dies on the street, Delhi Police classifies the body as “unidentified”. When we conducted our survey, we excluded the deaths which occurred to crime or railway accidents. When we analysed this data, out of Delhi’s 16 police districts, the highest number of deaths were found in the North Delhi police district. In this district, also known as Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad, over 70 pc shelter homes are situated, but still people can’t find a place to live. If we consider an area of 1 sq km then about 5000 to 7000 people can be found sleeping on the streets of Delhi,” explains Aledia.

Homeless shelters in the Capital are overcrowded and poorly maintained (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

The number of shelters is far too less and not present in the most affected areas. Aledia says, “As per the National Livelihoods Mission – Shelter for Urban Homeless (NULM-SUH), one shelter home must be of 1000 sq metre with the capacity of 100 people. However, the scheme hasn’t been implemented in Delhi. The state government claims we have built 308 shelters, of which 204 are functioning yearly. However, when we look at the ground reality until now only two permanent shelter homes have been built over the past seven-eight years. Which was implemented only after High Court’s orders. Of these two none is in the concentration areas,” Aledia adds.

It is not just disparity between the number of homeless and spots available in the functioning shelters that is the problem. The issue is also about the absence of facilities even in the few shelter homes set up so far. “It is written in the guidelines that the shelter homes must provide health facilities and basic requirements to the residents, but these facilities are nowhere to be found. If these shelters were made permanent then the basic facilities like toilets or bathrooms can be easily attached to them. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is an engineering board that is not connected to other government bodies despite its function being of social welfare. Due to this, some gaps and problems are evident,” observes Aledia.

Generations of migrant workers end up living on the streets (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

“Apart from constructing shelter homes, the Delhi government does nothing to help out the homeless. In many of the shelter homes, for the past seven years, new blankets have not been provided and even the worn and torn ones are not washed frequently. Morever, those staying in shelter homes often don’t receive food on time, even if they are given something to eat the quality of the food is not good enough. These shelters don’t receive any funding from the government. The organisations which are running the shelter homes haven’t been paid yet for the past 18 to 24 months,” adds Aledia.

The scarcity of funds allocated for schemes has always been the root cause of problems and the main reason why welfare schemes introduced by the government fail. Proper implementation and accountability on part of the welfare organisations as well as government is the key towards ensuring the welfare of the deprived, says CHD.



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