As per information provided by the CHD, homelessness and low temperature, coupled with illness claimed most of the lives. The CHD is an NGO working for people living on the streets of the national capital. “The statistics provided by CHD is based on the number of unidentified dead bodies recovered by the police on Delhi’s streets. As per government norms, unidentified people living on the streets are considered homeless,” said Sunil Aledia, Executive Director of CHD.
However, Nagendra Sharma, spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government, questioned the credibility of the report, and told The Sunday Guardian: “Not a single homeless person died this season and any such claim is baseless.”
Delhi BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana said: “The Delhi government has failed in solving the problems faced by the homeless as the government has not come up with a single new night shelter during the past two years of its tenure.” Khurana, who is son of former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana, claimed that he had an RTI reply with him which reveals the apathy of the government towards the homeless.
Currently, the national capital has 400 shelters, including temporary shades built especially to accommodate the homeless in winter. At the most, these shelters can accommodate around 5,000 people.
Destitute women find the going even tougher, as there are only 21 night shelters for them. With an annual budget of Rs 35 crore, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which functions under the Urban Development Ministry of the Delhi government, is responsible for maintaining shelters for the homeless. “We have not yet registered any death because of homelessness in the city,” said A.K. Gupta, a DUSIB member, adding, “the board is working properly to provide shelters to the city’s homeless.”
The condition of the homeless who have been rendered ill due to diseases is more miserable than others. This reporter found hundreds of homeless patients and their attendants sleeping outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here.
Only a lucky few have managed to find a place in the nearest shelter run by AIIMS.
For Mohan Sharma, a paraplegic, sleeping outside is painful. The 33-year-old had an upper-body movement problem and came to Delhi from Bihar for treatment at AIIMS. Doctors at AIIMS told him that he would have to wait for a few days to undergo surgery. “Almighty seems to be testing the will of the poor like me,” Sharma said, rolling his wheelchair.
“If I have to wait longer, my physical movement problem will increase due to the cold. I have no choice but to wait for treatment,” Sharma added.
Saroj Mahendru, another patient from Madhya Pradesh, said, “Doctors at AIIMS have prescribed an MRI test to investigate the scale of the tumour inside me, but hospital authorities have informed me that I have to wait for over 15 days. When I requested for a shelter alongside the hospital, they refused, saying there is no space inside the shelter. There is no way but to sleep outside the hospital.”
According to an estimate of the Office of Supreme Court Commissioners, the population of the homeless in Delhi stood at about two lakh in 2011, whereas the census had estimated it to be 46,724 in the same year.