Fifty-seven-year-old Sugan and her daughter have spent two months shivering on the footpath outside AIIMS. They are among the other patients, who, along with their relatives, come from other states, and are forced to stay on the pavements due to the lack of free accommodation.
Sugan is suffering from some digestive problem which she does not know anything about, since the doctors refuse to give her the name of the disease she is suffering from.
Whenever asked, the doctors prescribe medicines in return. When I asked her about food and water, Sugan replied, “People donate food and tea almost throughout the day so that is not a problem.”
According to her, the main problem is the poor condition of the washroom. The stench of urine from the partially closed toilets is indomitable.
“Some people have managed to find a place in a nearby shelter run by the hospital, while others are not so lucky and are forced to spend their nights under the open sky, coping with Delhi’s harsh cold,” said Sugan.
All these people stay outside the hospital till the next appointment, many too poor to go home and come back.
Many night shelters have been set up by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), an agency of the Delhi government, for the convenience of patients near the hospital. These shelters provide a covered area to sleep, with blankets and mattresses to protect against the cold.
The caretakers, from NGO Prerana, operate the night shelters at AIIMS, managing the entries, keeping records of occupancy and reporting problems. They also motivate the people sleeping outside to move to the night shelters.
The supervisor of one of the night shelters told us that some locals have made it a business. They sit outside the hospital and collect free blankets and then sell them to the poor. He showed us a video to substantiate his claim with a question, “When we are providing a place and blankets, why would these people sit in the cold?”
AIIMS and the hospitals at Safdurjung now have four night shelters to accommodate patients visiting hospitals for treatment.
The Delhi government has also released a mobile application to find the nearby ‘rain basera’ or night shelter. The application is called rain basera and can be downloaded from the application store.