NEW DELHI: Arvind Kejriwal’s “Winter Action Plan” may not quite be working to script. The Delhi Chief Minister had recently announced that additional bunk beds, geysers and other facilities would be installed at the city’s many night shelters to ensure that homeless people do not die in the winter chill. He had also said that doctors from mohalla clinics would conduct bi-weekly check-ups for the inmates.
However, a walk into these night shelters presents a very different picture. Not only are they cramped with people, they lack basic facilities, have no power and there is garbage strewn both on the premises and in surrounding areas. One of the common complaints is that doctors do not come for check-ups at regular intervals, as Kejriwal had promised.
“I have been here for the past five months. Only once a while, sometimes once a month, does a vehicle come to deliver basic medicines. But no doctor has ever come during my stay here,” Ramesh Kumar, who lives at the Nizamuddin Dargah night shelter said. He is one of the 50-odd inmates of the shelter that is designed to accommodate only 35 people.
Some doctors of mohalla clinics tasked with conducting the check-ups admitted their lapses. “We do not have adequate infrastructure and sometimes the shelters assigned to us are very far. Also, it is not possible for us to travel so far without transport facilities,” a doctor working at a mohalla clinic in West Delhi said on the condition of anonymity.
A similarly sorry state of affairs is evident at a tent shelter near the blind school in Nizamuddin. Here, the toilet is about 400 metres away from the shelter. Occupants complain that elderly people find it very difficult to access the toilet because of the distance.
Jaan Bibi, who runs a small shop in the locality and is one of the 30 occupants of the tent shelter, rued, “I am around 75 years old. It is impossible for me to go to the toilet in the early morning as it is dark. Also, there is no power supply in our shelter.”
When asked about the health check-ups, she smiled wrily and said, “Sahab, bijli toh aane do pehle. Dawaiyan door ki baat hai (Sir, let them first set up a power connection. Medicines are a far cry).”
The story is the same at the porta cabin shelter near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
This shelter is occupied mostly by outstation patients waiting for a hospital appointment.
“I am poor and cannot afford a hotel. I need to get my wife checked here (AIIMS) and hence I am in the shelter. It is horrible. I fear my wife’s health will only deteriorate but I am helpless,” Venkata Krishna, a daily-wage labourer from Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, said.
Occupants of shelters near the Akshardham temple and the LNJP Hospital mostly echo these views. The shelter at LNJP looks quite spacious as it has only around 15 occupants. Most of them are sick and coughing constantly.
“This place is horrible. There has been no water for the past four days. We are labourers and we are forced to live in unhygienic conditions. There is no medical check-up. I did not even know that the government had promised such a thing,” an occupant, Ramji, said as he tried to catch his breath after a bout of continuous coughing.
Despite the unpromising state of affairs, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board officials claimed they were doing their best to fulfil the government’s promises.
“We are short of manpower but even then we are doing our best to ensure medical check-ups at all shelters in the city. Despite the shortcomings, we will do the check-ups in the coming weeks,” Bipin Rai, a consultant with the board, said.