After court rap, Delhi scrambles to set up night shelters

After court rap, Delhi scrambles to set up night shelters

In a picture taken on January 7, 2010 Indian homeless people sleep on a pavement in New Delhi. AFP

"Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta held an urgent meeting with Municipal Commissioner K.S. Mehra and other top department officials to work out an urgent action plan for providing shelter to homeless people in Delhi," a senior Delhi government official  said.

The Supreme Court on  Wednesday morning had  ordered the Delhi government to provide night shelters to all the homeless in the capital by evening, taking note of the plight of the homeless during the extreme cold in Delhi.

The apex court ordered the government to hold a meeting by 4.30 p.m. to decide how the order would be followed. This has sent top officials in a tizzy. In the past fortnight they drew flak from courts for callously demolishing a couple of temporary night shelters in the name of beautification ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

"The authorities must also ensure that the night shelters have basic amenities such as blankets, electricity and toilets," the apex court ordered in the morning.
This would be a high order for the government, which currently runs 54 night shelters in Delhi. Their combined capacity cannot house even a small fraction of the capital's estimated 150,000 homeless people.

"The target to provide night shelters to all homeless by evening is unrealistic and impossible. However, it will certainly put pressure on authorities to work fast," Paramjeet Kaur of NGO Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA)  said.

The NGO at present looks after 34 of the 54 night shelters under the Delhi government and Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

"The authorities will have to look for locations for setting up new shelters. There are a lot of factors involved which will need to be looked at," she added.

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