UN rights expert sounds alarm on dire situation of New Delhi’s homeless

20 January 2010

A United Nations independent human rights expert today voiced concern over the deaths of homeless people in India’s capital from a cold wave, underscoring the need for adequate shelter to protect them from harsh weather.

“The lives of hundreds of homeless people in India are at risk as temperatures near zero degrees,” said Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.

Ten homeless people have lost their lives in the past month in New Delhi, while some 100 people have reportedly died in northern India due to the freezing cold over the last few weeks.

The number of homeless people in India has grown since 2007, but the number of shelters for them has plummeted from 46 to 24 in New Delhi, Ms. Rolnik pointed out.

This year’s Commonwealth Games appears to be driving the closing down of shelters in New Delhi, with public authorities evicting homeless people and tearing down their places of residence in spite of the frigid temperatures.

Late last month, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished a temporary night shelter on Pusa Road, leaving 250 people without shelter and allegedly resulting in the deaths of two people. In spite of an order by the Delhi High Court on 7 January requesting the immediate restoration of the shelter and the protection of the uprooted families, authorities have yet to help them.

A further 400 people were evicted from an area they were using as shelter at Pul Mitahi, where many construction workers for the Commonwealth Games and Dalit families were living.

Ms. Rolnik, who reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, welcomed the Delhi High Court’s ruling and urged authorities to “halt the demolition of homeless shelters, to provide immediate assistance and adequate shelter to the affected persons, and not to evict homeless persons in the winter, on humanitarian grounds.”


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