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Shelter the homeless: Nandita Das
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | December 22, 2003 18:33 IST
Every winter nearly 2,000 homeless people die in India.
Hundreds of destitute women and children living on the streets are abused sexually during the chilly nights.
Actress and activist Nandita Das on Monday gave a clarion call to the government, religious leaders and ordinary people to rescue these people.
At a press conference organised by voluntary group Action Aid India, Das said: "The winter has started. Sometimes we don't even like to go to the bathroom to wash our hands. Though we live in comfortable houses. Just imagine the situation of the people who do not have roof over their head."
"We need to do our bit. It is, of course, a big issue and state has the responsibility to protect these people. But we also need to contribute whatever we can."
Das and Action Aid urged the government to speed up the process of building shelters for homeless people. They also asked owners of government buildings, schools, colleges and religious places to provide shelter to them.
Harsh Mander, country director, Action Aid, said: "All these places are closed during the night. They have enough space to accommodate large number of people."
Last year, some government and private schools had volunteered to provide to shelter to these people. These people then cleaned up the building in the morning.
Additional Commissioner of Police, Amod Kant, who also runs a voluntary group Prayas for destitute children, said: "According to the latest census report, there are 13 million homeless household in India. Each of these households has 5-6 members. All these people do not have any roof over their head."
"They sleep on pavements under open sky and fall victim of unusual weather -- be it harsh summer or cold winter."
The problem is more serious in big cities where hundreds and thousands of people migrate in search of jobs.
According to conservative estimate, there are 100,000 of the nearly 15 million people in Delhi are homeless. The city has a capacity to provide shelter to just 6,000 people in 41 permanent and temporary shelters, which close after the winter.
Many homeless people die and their bodies are not claimed. Last year, the Delhi police had collected 3,040 such unclaimed bodies. This year, 2,977 unclaimed bodies were recovered till November. Most of them die due to cold. Last year, 70 people had died due to cold in Delhi.
Mander said the Delhi government was asked to put up temporary shelters by November 20 but nothing has been done yet.
"The government is still debating whether the cold wave has started or not. They will act only when people start dying," said Indu Prakash Singh of voluntary group Ashray Adhikar Manch.
Two bodies were recovered on Friday near old Delhi railway station. They died due to cold.
Action Aid has filed a public interest suit in the Supreme Court asking it to make the government responsible for providing shelter.
About Rs 86 crore is required to build houses for 50,000 people in Delhi, says Action Aid.
"It is not about money. It is about political will. Is the government ready to do it?" asked Mander. "We need to realise that each life is precious," added Das.
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