Within a week of ordering the Delhi state government to provide night shelters to the homeless in the capital, the Supreme Court (SC) has sought to widen the ambit of a probe into the right to life of urban homeless people and sought the status of availability of night shelters for the homeless across the country.
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Dalveer Bhandari and K S Radhakrishnan on January 27 issued notice to all states and Union Territories (UTs), asking them to file their replies within a week. The bench further clarified that the notice should be served on the respective chief secretaries/administrators within two days through the resident commissioners in Delhi.
The notice is based on a report by two former bureaucrats, N C Saxena and Harsh Mander, appointed by the court earlier as its commissioners to look into the plight of homeless people in the national capital.
‘Living in the open is gross denial of the right to live with dignity,’ say the court commissioners in their report. ‘Directions similar to those given to the Delhi government last week need to be passed addressing the entire country, to defend and uphold the right to live with dignity, and the right of food and shelter for all urban homeless people in the country,’ they have said.
The proposals made by Saxena and Mander, include treating every unclaimed body not resulting from any accident as a possible starvation death, entailing mandatory inquest and post-mortem to ascertain the reasons for the death.
About 450 deaths have occurred in Uttar Pradesh, 40 in Bihar and 30 in Jharkhand this winter in the absence of proper shelter, clothing and food for the poor.
Citing a related report submitted to the apex court earlier, the commissioners said an estimated 80-200 million people ‘sleep hungry every night’ and studies had confirmed that a large number of the vulnerable population, including boys and girls, ‘are uncovered or inadequately covered by any government food schemes’.
Besides pointing out the plight of over one lakh homeless people in the capital, they said Lucknow had only eight temporary shelters and one permanent shelter for 20,000 homeless people, while there was no such facility in Mumbai and Patna.
According to the suggestions, the night shelters must have basic facilities such as bed, water, toilet, health check-up and recreation to enable the users to ‘enjoy their fundamental right to life with dignity’. Wholesome and hygienic meals should be provided through community kitchens for Rs 10 each to all working men and for Rs 5 to all women and free of cost to all children, aged, infirm and the destitute.
Activist-writer Bharat Dogra, while welcoming the SC intervention said: “A survey by Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan in Delhi revealed that most homeless people work hard and send back their savings to their poor families in remote villages. Helping the urban homeless thus indirectly helps some of the most poverty-hit families in rural areas.”
A review of the struggles of pavement dwellers by Bishnu N Mohapatra says in the context of Mumbai, ‘The case of Mumbai’s pavement dwellers clearly suggests that a group of people who are economically poor and socially marginal find it difficult to make their mark on state policies — even the ones that directly influence their life chances.’
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.