New Delhi, India's capital, is getting colder by the year. Its residents woke up to the coldest day of the season on New Year on Tuesday with the minimum temperature dipping to 2.6 degree Celsius.
But thousands of homeless are left shivering. There are no shelters available for them to offer even minimum relief. Scores die every year. Women seem to be particularly vulnerable.
"There are at least one lakh homeless people in the city but the night shelters available can accommodate only 7,000 of them. The government is going about demolishing shelter homes instead of creating permanent shelters," complained Indu Prakash Singh from NGO ActionAid.
According to estimates by NGO Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, at least 10,000 of those living on the streets are women. Despite women making up for 7-10% of Delhi's homeless, the only shelter being run for them at Yamuna Pushta near Vijay Ghat, was closed down by the authorities of the The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD
) in June last year to give way to a warehouse. No alternative arrangement were made for the ones taking cover in that home.
"There are no lasting options for women, who live on the streets and want a safe getaway during night. They huddle together on railway platforms, around temples and other places of worship," noted Paramjit Kaur, director, Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan.
However, the MCD officials argued that the women's shelter was closed down as few women availed of the facility.
"In that shelter home, there were hardly 22 women. Also the problem is that women tend to settle down in the shelter homes and bring all their belongings there, whereas we aim at providing shelter only during night," said Deep Mathur, director, information, MCD.
The plight of children is a matter of even greater concern. Rajib Haldar, executive director, Prayas, said: "One needs to look for permanent solutions for street children, who are most vulnerable to abuse in the city. Around 19 temporary night shelters started by the government this winter is a step in the right direction, but they are not enough."
The MCD's slum wing says it is setting up six more temporary night shelters across the city besides the 17 existing ones that are permanent.
While the MCD at least claims to be working on putting up night shelters, the 'rich' New Delhi Municipal Council has set up no such refuge in its area this season.
"NDMC is one of India's richest municipal bodies with vast properties at its disposal. Many buildings remain unused and can be turned into shelters with a small investment. More shelters with specific provisions for women and children would mean fewer rapes and assaults on Delhi's streets," noted Indu Prakash Singh.