Bombay High Court raps government for insensitive approach on night shelters
A homeless family rests near an under-construction apartment block in Mumbai.
According to Census 2011 figures, there are nearly 60,000 homeless people in Mumbai, most of them living on pavements or railway platforms.
Mumbai: With real estate prices ranging from Rs15,000 to upwards of Rs100,000 a sq ft in India's financial capital, finding land for the 60,000-odd homeless people, who squat on pavements, is the least of priorities for the authorities.
The courts have over the years criticised the Maharashtra government and the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) for their failure to find a solution to the problems of the homeless. On Tuesday, the Bombay high court once again slammed the state government for the delay in providing land to the civic body to build shelters for the homeless.
According to Census 2011 figures, there are nearly 60,000 homeless people in Mumbai, most of them living on pavements or railway platforms. There are just seven shelters for the homeless, and even these places are rundown and not maintained.
But the homeless constitute a floating population in Mumbai. With a severe drought raging in backward regions of the state including Marathawada, the number of homeless citizens will increase sharply over the coming months. Homeless Collective, an NGO, had some time back filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay high court, seeking directions to the government and the BMC regarding the setting up of night shelters.
Citing figures from the National Urban Livelihood Mission, the NGO noted that for every 100,000 population there should be one night shelter. Mumbai would thus need more than 200 shelters, but has less than a handful exist at present.
The BMC told the court that the state government had rejected seven proposals that it had forwarded seeking allotment of land for night shelters. The court directed the government to allocate larger plots if those suggested by the BMC were small. The judges also accused the government of being 'insensitive' towards the homeless.
Mumbai's homeless are often victims of crime, with thieves snatching whatever little possessions they have. The worst sufferers are women and girls, many of who are molested and raped. Likewise, drunk motorists sometimes run over the homeless sleeping on pavements.
Most of the homeless also fear the four-month monsoon, when they have to move their meagre belongings to railway platforms or bus depots, and where they have to bribe security guards or the railway police.
Fortunately, Mumbai's winters are not harsh, but for the under-nourished, sleeping in the open can lead to several diseases.