New Delhi: Delhi's homeless are spending chilly winter nights on the streets alleging "unhygienic" conditions of night shelters for it, while government agencies blame their greed to get free blankets and clothes from NGOs and good Samaritans for the situation.
Armed with a rundown jute mat and a sole thin blanket, 29-year-old Arun Kumar, a migrant laborer from Madhya Pradesh chose the pavement outside Reserve Bank of India building here over the closest night shelter near Bangla Sahib Gurudwara to sleep last night.
"Try and spend a night at the shelter and you will understand our plight...the blankets they provide us are full of lice," Kumar claimed, oblivious of the fact that the MeT department had declared cold day conditions in the national capital.
According to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), presently, there are 219 night shelters being run in permanent structures, porta cabins, temporary tents, and community halls with a capacity of over 15,000 people.
As winter chill grips the city every night from the dingy bylanes of Old Delhi to the heart of Lutyens', almost every part of the megapolis sees many homeless lining up on the footpaths or seeking respite under bus shelters to sleep.
25-year-old Prem, who hails from Rajasthan and works as a labourer in the city, claimed that homeless are "stuffed like cattle" inside night shelters making it difficult for them to even turn.
"Apart from the unhygienic conditions, there is no place to take even a turn while sleeping. We are stuffed like cattle inside those shelters...otherwise why would we sleep in the open?" Prem claimed.
When contacted, the DUSIB refuted such claims stating that a section of homeless people continues to sleep on the streets to get blankets and clothes from several voluntary organizations and individuals who work for their cause.
"31 senior officers go to the field every night to check each and every shelter. The situation is not the way it is being painted. A section sleeps outside for getting clothes and blankets from voluntary organizations," DUSIB Director (Assets and Management/Night Shelter) Kamal Malhotra said.
Malhotra claimed that the cleaning up process for over 13,000 used blankets started from September 13 this year and 6,781 new blankets have been issued to the night shelters.
Currently, DUSIB has 14,701 blankets in stock and the tender floated earlier for 20,000 additional "new" blankets was "opened" today.
On the Delhi High Court's recent suggestion to identify buildings in the city and seek help from various agencies to make available night shelter space, Malhotra said that there are limitations to that step.
"Simply identifying a building is not enough. There has to be provision for toilets and installation of mobile toilet vans as well. We are in touch with NDMC to identify such buildings," he said.
The Lt Governor Najeeb Jung recently appealed to the citizens, NGOs, and other philanthropists to encourage people sleeping outside to make use of these facilities.