In an attempt to make the city clean and green the government is displacing slum dwellers across the national capital. Recently, SDMC forcefully evicted homeless people under the flyover in Nizamuddin area as they were damaging the ‘beauty’ created under the flyover. These homeless people were accused of creating filth and open defecation in that area.
Earlier, between August to November 2017 the same SDMC has evicted around 1,500 homeless people from under flyover in Delhi to beautify the city. In the metropolitan cities, such cases are common where homeless people become the regular victim of government’s discriminatory actions. This is clearly a case of human rights violation. The question that we need to ask here is that why so many homeless are forced to live on the pavements or in open streets in Delhi. The lack of adequate night shelters for the homeless people in the city is one of the major reasons why they choose to live on the streets and pavements. According to the estimate calculated by IGSSS in 2008, there are about 88,410 homeless people in Delhi. But the Delhi government’s shelter capacity is only 16,834 across 263-night shelters. In the past couple of years, there have been many demolitions of slums coupled with lack of adequate night shelters to accommodate thousands of homeless people. How are the homeless people supposed to cope up with this?
The condition of the existing night shelters in Delhi is not upto the mark, forcing many to choose streets over these shelters. The state of toilets and other essential amenities like cooler, water etc. are terrible inside the shelters. There are very few shelters with the facility of the kitchen. The cases of stealing, safety, molestations and harassments by the police and sometimes by the caretakers inside the shelters are also very common. The DUSIB runs night Shelters through the Shelter Management Agencies. These agencies are selected by the invitation of tender for a contract of one year, which is generally renewed every year. DUSIB has already invited tender for this year. One of the problematic things about this tender process is that whoever bids the lowest gets selected. In adopting this method, the government is prioritising money only to decide who can get the best services for the homeless people. Due to this strategy of awarding the tenders by DUSIB majority of the night shelter are bagged by few SMAs only. In this way, the running of night shelters are becoming a matter of commerce, and thus irregularity in their services become very common. There are many other clauses in the tender guidelines of DUSIB which prohibit the new agencies to take over the shelters. In the guidelines of DUSIB there has been no mention of the social audit to check the functioning of these night shelters, and thus the problems existing in the shelters are left unresolved.
Moreover, DUSIB hasn’t conducted any proper survey to assess the conditions for homeless people in Delhi. The last DUSIB study done in 2014 on the orders of NHRC had grossly underestimated the number of homeless in Delhi by claiming it to be just 17, 000. The Delhi government sees the issue of homelessness as a temporary problem. According to the current occupancy status report of DUSIB dashboard, out of 198-night shelters, 115 are portacabin and rest is permanent buildings. In a city where thousands of people migrate in search of work, treating the issue of homeless as a temporary problem reflects on the ignorance of the government. Among all the homeless population about 30% of them is permanently living in the night shelters which testify the fact that homelessness is not a temporary issue and this myth needs to be broken.
The current central government always takes pride in saying that they have launched major policies like PMAY, Smart City Mission, among many others to address the problems of the poor. But none of them has any components that address the issues of the homeless in the city. The only scheme which looks after the homeless in the city is NUML that was enacted by the previous government in 2013. So it is vividly clear that why the homeless people in Delhi are forced to live on the streets. The reason behind these abysmal conditions of the homeless in the city is the failure of the government to provide them with a roof and essential services. The removal of homeless from even the streets and pavements as we saw in the case of Nizamuddin flyover is the shameless act of the SDMC municipality which needs to be condemned.
The government should come up with a strong policy on homeless people in Delhi which not only protect the homeless people by providing a roof to them but also properly rehabilitate them and help them to get a dignified life in the city. Kerala government’s project to address the issue of homeless people could be a role model here. In 2016, the state launched LIFE (livelihood, inclusion & financial empowerment) scheme to safeguard the lives of homeless people. Under this project, the Kerala government has taken a vow to provide all the homeless in the state home and land to the landless along with skill-based training. Cities do not become beautiful by merely maintaining the cleanliness and greenery but rather by restoring the socioeconomic equality among the different section of the society.
The author is part of urban poverty team of Indo Global Social Service Society and also the member of Shehari Adhikar Manch: Begharo Ke Sath(SAM: BKS)Delhi.