NEW DELHI: Observing that "our heart bleeds when we see homeless persons sleeping without roof in this winter," the Supreme Court today directed the government to ensure that there are no deaths on account of the biting cold conditions in the country.
"Our heart bleeds when we see homeless persons sleeping without roof in this winter. You can't permit your own children to die in winter", a bench of justices Dalveer Bhandari and Dipak Mishra told Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran appearing for Delhi government.
The apex court made the remarks while referring to media reports and photographs highlighting instances of scores of people sleeping on the pavements outside the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS).
Parasaran told the court that due to security reasons AIIMS had demolished the night shelter earlier constructed by the government but assured steps would be taken to set up a temporary night shelter at the place.
But the apex court expressed displeasure at the statement and said "you are quick in demolishing instead of constructing. It is a serious problem. It must not happen any more. You have to protect your own people."
The ASG told the court that Delhi government had facilitated construction of 64 permanent shelters in the national capital.
But the contention was challenged by the petitioner Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)'s counsel Colin Gonzalves who said hardly any of the shelter homes had occupants and there was "near zero occupancy."
He submitted there were no efforts from government side to ensure that homeless persons were encouraged to stay in shelter homes.
The apex court is monitoring the implementation of its 2009 orders on providing night shelters across the country and had appointed court commissioners to inspect the shelters.
A recent report submitted to the court said that "in almost all states, homeless persons continue to sleep on the streets, continue to lead a life of exclusion and destitution.
Most state governments continue to show poor compliance to the directions of the Supreme Court."
Interestingly, Himachal Pradesh told the apex court that "there were no homeless persons" in the state. The apex court recorded the undertaking.
The bench today reviewed the status of night shelters in Delhi, J and K, Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and wanted the states to file detailed responses before Saturday and listed the matter for further hearing to January 16.
The apex court also directed the states to ensure that the night shelters were equipped mandatorily with basic facilities like potable water, separate toilets for men and women, bedding, and medical facilities in the existing night shelters.