Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Homeless Night Shelters and the Commonwealth Games Teach Us About Our World Class City


The courts have ruled that it is not OK to close night shelters for homeless people in the capital to make way for the Commonwealth Games. According to this article on the Commonwealth Games blog , Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said, ‘We do not expect any modern civilised society to allow its people to die, whether it is Commonwealth Games or any other thing. This trend cannot be allowed.’

It is nice to see the courts making so much sense.  People do die from the cold in North India.  In fact, The Hindu (January 14) reports that 10 days after the MCD closed the night shelter that sparked this case, a 35 year old balloon vendor who had staying there died of extreme cold. According to this excellent piece in Frontline, during the winter of 2002, police found over 3000 corpses--400 during one cold wave alone.

Something like one percent of Delhi residents are homeless.  That adds up to about 150,000 people--not counting the four million or so people who live in slums

For these 150,000 homeless people, Delhi has 43 night shelters.  Is that what a World Class city does? Taking care of our environment cannot just be about banning unsightly plastic bags or covering nallahs.  A liveable environment is one where all people can live without freezing to death and preferably with some level of dignity.  

In their recent ruling, the court said there should be one homeless night shelter in each area with 100,000 people.  That's a start, but it's not enough.  Once we finish spending all that money on the questionable Commonwealth games, maybe we should focus on things other than fun and games. Why not launch a massive drive to regularize, expand and improve the inadequate housing we have for poor people in this city?  If we can build flyovers and metros, we can build cheap housing!

While we are at it, let's make it earthquake safe. Inexpensive earthquake safe housing is not impossible.  In fact, it is a necessity.  Need I say more?

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