NEW DELHI: Away from the brightly lit malls, the teeming restaurants and the heated homes of New Delhi, is another world that is merciless, dark and cold. Around 330 homeless people have died on the brutally wintry streets of the capital starting December last year, in spite of the 257 night shelters functioning in the city.
On one such chilly January night, a shelter near the Railway Bridge opposite Akshardham temple was packed like sardines with sleeping homeless people. Inside, the stench of the unwashed poor in rags was overpowering.
People wrapped from head to toe in black blankets lay huddled together. Unaware of who was sleeping beside them, none of them even bothered to look at who was entering.
Fifty-one such homeless citizens died during the first nine days of January alone — around six per day. Eight to nine people die by the roadside, on pavements, shopfronts and below flyovers as the minimum temperature hovers around 2 degree Celsius at night.
In January 2014, 201 homeless people froze to death, while 193 died in January 2013. The Delhi government claims to be spending around `2 crore every month to provide shelter to the homeless. In a bizarre twist of fate, on January 7, four homeless people were found dead on the pavements outside the night shelters themselves.
“Most deaths have taken place in North and Central Delhi. The figures are compiled by Delhi Police,” said Indu Prakash Singh, head of the Homeless Residents Programme at the Indo-Global Social Service Society, an NGO that was established in 1960.
Delhi’s night shelters are managed by NGOs using government grants. Coincidentally, three NGOs — the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM), Prayas and Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan and private security agency Rakshak Securities Private Limited — have cornered over 50 per cent of the management of the 257 night shelters across the city and the rest is managed by 46 NGOs.
These NGOs and the government, however, are unable to prevent these deaths; in death, official procedures are being followed. A Delhi Police spokesperson told Express, “As soon as we find the body of a homeless person, we try to locate his or her relatives. We preserve the bodies for 72 hours and if no one comes forward to claim it, we perform their last rites.”
The police pay the pundits at Nigambodh Ghat on the Yamuna for the cremation.
However, it seems the homeless have no other options — it is either pack into a shelter or die a freezing death.