Bhubaneswar, Dec 24:
Winter is a time for picnics, bonfires, Christmas et al for most of us. But it’s a curse for the poor living on the streets. With the mercury dropping steadily in the capital city over the last few days during the night, people who live on the streets to earn their meals by begging, doing errands or hawking merchandise are having a tough time finding a place to huddle for the night in the absence of night shelters.
Most of the homeless end up either at the railway station, footpath, bus stand or temple premises with stray dogs, cats and cows as their bedfellows and tattered rugs and sheets as their only defence against the wintry chill. While blankets under the state government’s free blanket scheme is a farfetched luxury for these hapless lot, Railway Police Force (RPF) and men in khaki on duty at the railway station lose no opportunity to shoo them away. But with no place to go, they invariably return to the same place to spend the nights at the first available opportunity.
In the winter of 2010, many people spending nights on the streets had died in the national capital as a result of the bone chilling cold. Responding to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court in this context the same year, a bench comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dalbir Bhandari had directed all state governments to construct night shelters in urban areas for the homeless.
The apex court had directed the governments to house people sleeping at bus stands or on streets at these shelters during the night. The court had directed construction of one such shelter for every one lakh population in urban areas. Moreover, 30 percent of it was to be reserved for women, the old and the disabled. Beds, toilets, drinking water and first aid were to be provided at the shelters. The court had also directed governments to publicise the facility by issuing advertisements, announcements through public address systems and hoardings. An independent commission was appointed to keep a check on the implementation of the court’s order.
As part of its efforts to implement the apex court’s order, the state government constructed a decent night shelter at Ward No 30 in Kargil basti of the state capital. The night shelter, inaugurated way back in August 30, 2012 by the then Urban Development minister Raghunath Mohanty and BMC mayor Anant Narayan Jena, is yet to become a shelter for the destitute. The shelter remains closed all the time.
According to the independent commission’s directions and basing on the 2011 census, Bhubaneswar should have a minimum of seven night shelters, Cuttack five and Puri two. At least nine towns in the state have crossed the one lakh population mark. Night shelters should have been constructed in these towns. But then the government is yet to give a thought to the issue.
On being asked about the construction of night shelters, all that the BMC authorities have to say is that a night shelter has already been constructed at the Kargil Basti and work on others will begin soon at Ganganagar, Ashoknagar and Baramunda as land has been already allotted by the General Administration department.