Dog days for Delhi homeless as NGOs juggle funds

NEW DELHI: What’s the point of spending Rs3 lakh for a tin shed that falls apart in three months? The recently erected porta cabins in the city are to be redesigned, thanks to senior authoriti

Published: 25th March 2012 12:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:42 PM   |  A+A-


Life in the metro

NEW DELHI: What’s the point of spending Rs3 lakh for a tin shed that falls apart in three months? The recently erected porta cabins in the city are to be redesigned, thanks to senior authorities who passed a design fit enough to work only during winters.

Sixty four portas were installed in the capital at different areas, after the Supreme Court rapped the government in December last year for not managing temporary night shelters.

Around Rs 2 crore was spent on these porta cabins for the homeless, and now the government has to spend afresh a whole lot of money to make the structures compatible for summer. “We’re set to make some changes in the porta cabins so that the homeless can use them even during summers. It’ll cost something around Rs 50-80,000 per unit, though,” said Amod Kumar, who heads Mother NGO, Delhi’s nodal agency for the homeless.

Made of thin tin sheets, these porta cabins are not being used by Delhi’s homeless anymore, for they say they are too hot and suffocating to sleep in. Not just that, the structures are in bad shape, with wooden floorboards that have developed cracks. “A few days after the porta cabins were installed, the ply floorboards started breaking. With the onset of summer, it’s impossible for one to sleep or take shelter in them,” says a group of homeless who used to sleep in a porta cabin at the Kashmere gate, ISBT.

“It’s so hot that at night, one would prefer sleeping on pavements under the open sky than in these cabins, which don’t even have a fan,” said Lalita Kumari, a balloon-seller. The Sunday Standard brought it to the notice of Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), who said they’re working on modifying the cabins.

“We have sought help from Housing and Urban Development Corporation limited (HUDCO), to suggest ideas for improving the present design of the cabins... making them suitable for summer use,” says Vijay Kumar Sharma, Director, DUSIB. Asked if bad planning caused the wastage of resources, Sharma said: “There won’t be any wastage of money as the basic structure will be the same, we’ll just modify it a little bit... that too at a small investment.”

According to government figures, each porta cabin cost Rs 3 lakh. This includes wooden floors, laminated vinyl exterior, tin sheet walls, fire-retardant roof and ceilings, windows, solar lighting, and fire-resistant mattresses.

While in summer the walls heat up quickly, the wooden floorboards are the weakest link. They are so flimsy, that accommodating more people is a risk as the floor can give way. Moreover, power inside the cabins is provided through solar cells. It’s impossible to run a fan on such little power. “The light inside the cabin is solar powered, and with a 12V battery, it’s impossible to run a fan. In such a case, the government has to find some other way out,” says social activist Ashok Pandey.

The caretakers, NGO’s managing these structures say, they too were unsure of the design but as it was passed by the government, they accepted it. “Several NGOs raised questions over the design but after it was passed by the government, we stopped complaining. And now it’s a failed project,” says social activist Mansoor Khan.

However, the government claims the design was best available at that point of time, particularly compared to the tent structures used earlier. “I see porta cabins as a major positive change happening in the city. Though some changes are needed to make them ready for summers, it’s still the best possible design,” Kumar said. He adds: “We erected 64 porta cabins in a month’s time. At that point, that was the major hurdle. The material for insulating the cabins from summer heat was not only too expensive, but also taking too much time to procure.”

Home to more than 2.5 lakh homeless, though the figure is as low as 55,955 people according to the 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) survey, the capital has 148 night shelters which include 64 permanent and 84 temporary structures.


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