(ENg) Housing Rights Groups Raise Concern over Persistent Human Rights Violations of Delhi¹s Homeless

Housing and Land Rights Network – Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan – ActionAid

PRESS RELEASE / New Delhi, 7th December 2007

Housing Rights Groups Raise Concern over Persistent Human Rights
Violations of Delhi¹s Homeless

* Only 10 government run shelters for Delhi¹s estimated 1.5 lakh
homeless people
* Not one shelter for the over 10,000 homeless women in the nation¹s
* Despite predictions of a harsh winter, Municipal Corporation of
Delhi decreases the number of temporary night shelters

As Human Rights Day approaches on December 10, it is a matter of
national shame that the country¹s capital has an estimated 1.5 lakh
homeless people who face daily violations of their human rights. In a
city that prides itself on its aspirational ³world-class² status, it is
a glaring failure of the state that so many people continue to be forced
to live on the streets without any available recourse. Even more
horrifying is the fact that there is not even one shelter for the city¹s
over 10,000 homeless women.

While homeless people suffer hardships of street life during every
season, winter poses the greatest threats to their health and lives.
Despite persistent civil society efforts and pressure on the municipal
and state governments to address issues related to homelessness, the
situation only seems to get worse with each year. According to Paramjeet
Kaur, Director, Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), ³The involvement of
multiple players such as the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the
New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Department of Social Welfare, and
the Delhi state government, often means that no one is willing to assume
responsibility. This is perhaps due to the failure to recognise the
issue in government policies.²

Though the city tends to blame homeless people for their plight and
washes its hands of all legal and moral responsibility to protect and
provide for them, it fails to address the structural and systemic
factors that lead to homelessness. The most critical of these are: the
non-existence of low cost and public housing options in Delhi; large
scale eviction drives and slum demolitions without adequate
livelihood-based rehabilitation and resettlement; shift in land use
towards intensive infrastructure development such as highways and
shopping malls; the unavailability of financial schemes for poor and
marginalised communities; and the lack of a comprehensive human-rights
based national housing law. Indu Prakash Singh, Theme Leader (Shelters &
Housing), ActionAid, asserts that, ³the government¹s current focus is on
rapid urban renewal and city beautification at the cost of the poor.
This agenda is supported by the government¹s Jawaharlal Nehru National
Urban Renewal Mission, which is based on the (pro-privatisation) Draft
National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy 2005, which while
acknowledging the city¹s severe housing shortfall (also highlighted in
the Delhi Human Development Report 2006), contains provisions that could
potentially exacerbate homelessness. What makes the situation worse is
the fact that the Judiciary has turned anti-poor.²

The Government of India is legally bound by both national and
international law to protect, promote and realise the human right to
adequate housing for all. A human rights approach to addressing
homelessness would involve dealing with its causes and taking
progressive measures to ensure that all city inhabitants are able to
live in a safe and secure home with peace and dignity. The onset of
winter, however, calls for an immediate and focused humanitarian
response in the form of adequate, warm, and clean shelters that provide
all basic services and are located close to people¹s sources of
livelihoods. The city, tragically, has failed on this front as well.

While the MCD runs only 10 permanent homeless shelters catering to
around 2500 people (leaving over 98% of the city¹s homeless to fend for
themselves or be provided for by NGOs such as AAA which runs seven
shelters), the NDMC supposedly India¹s richest civic body runs no
shelters. The only shelter for homeless women in Delhi (in Yamuna
Pushta), which was being run on a contractual basis by AAA for MCD, was
closed in June 2007 on the grounds that the space was needed to store
material for building a city centre nearby. Currently the space is lying
unused. A city government that evicts homeless women to make space for
construction material needs to seriously rethink its priorities and
evaluate its human rights record. The complete state disregard for
homeless people is further evident in the MCD¹s recent decision to
decrease the number of temporary night shelters from nine last year to
six this year. The conditions in these makeshift shelters are also
highly inadequate with reported cases of poor maintenance and laxity in
providing proper facilities (including clean blankets).
Non-implementation of national programmes such as the Swadhar Scheme
aimed at providing shelter for women is another problem. As per
government records, only 150 women in Delhi benefited from this scheme
in the year 2002-03. Since then no data is available.

According to Shivani Chaudhry, Associate Coordinator of the Housing and
Land Rights Network, ³The issue is not of paucity of funds or absence of
space but of a complete lack of priority and concern. When the
government can manage to raise money in the magnitude of Rs. 10,571
crores for the first phase of the Delhi metro, over Rs. 1,000 crores for
the high capacity bus corridor, and over Rs. 5,200 crores for the 2010
Commonwealth Games, including the provision of free land for stadiums
and other construction, why can¹t it allocate funds and find space for
public housing and shelters for the homeless?²

The fact that there is no government data on homeless people in Delhi
also reflects its appalling negligence towards the issue. Existing
estimates of the number of Delhi¹s homeless are from civil society.

It is thus evident that not only has the government failed to address
homelessness in Delhi, but its policies are actually guilty of fuelling
a rapidly spiralling crisis. While violation of the human right to
adequate housing is the most obvious, the denial of housing rights also
leads to the inability to obtain other basic services, including ration
cards. Lack of nutritious food and clean potable water as well as the
absence of sanitation facilities exposes homeless people to numerous
health hazards. The absence of a secure living environment also makes
women and children vulnerable to physical abuse and sexual violence.

India¹s human rights record will be examined under the Universal
Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in April 2008 and by the
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2008.
Demonstrated commitment to addressing issues such as homelessness would
clearly affect these outcomes.

The vision of making Delhi a truly ³world class city² would remain
meaningless until the human rights of all its inhabitants, especially
the homeless and poor, are promoted and protected. In this regard, the
government should take measures to urgently:

1. Make available low cost housing for the urban poor, and mandate
provisions for this in all city plans. This should include reservation
of land and earmarked funds for housing for all low income groups.
2. Put a halt to slum demolitions and forced evictions in the city.
3. Legalise and upgrade informal settlements, and provide legal
security of tenure to all slum dwellers.
4. Ensure people¹s participation in the development of all city
plans, including housing /settlement plans.
5. Provide basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity
free of cost or on a subsidised basis, and prevent their privatisation.
6. Conduct periodic surveys to assess the number of homeless people
and make available disaggregated data, including the number of homeless
women and children.
7. Create more permanent shelters for the homeless. Separate
shelters for women and children are urgently needed. Access to shelters
and living conditions must be adequate to ensure protection of the human
rights to health, food, water, sanitation, livelihood, privacy, and
security of the person and family.
8. Implement the following measures for the homeless:
– provide them with voter cards and below poverty line (BPL) cards;
– provide vocational training and education;
– provide mobile health care vans;
– make micro-finance available for economic ventures and housing.
9. Abolish the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, and the
Bombay Vagrancy Act, 1959, as they effectively criminalize the poor and
10. Ensure that the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy 2005,
which was recently approved by the Union Cabinet, is opened to public
consultation and includes measures to address homelessness and protect
the human right to adequate housing before it is adopted.

It is imperative that the government¹s commitments to protecting and
realising the human rights of all, especially the most marginalised
sections of society, are reaffirmed and acted upon on Human Rights Day.