New Delhi: As night temperatures dip to new lows across North India, Delhi's homeless are once again left to fend for themselves. The government's efforts to beautify flyovers in Delhi have further deprived many of the little shelter that they did get.
"We used to sleep under the bridge but they drove us out. Now we're sleeping here," said an elderly man sleeping on the curb near the freshly painted IIT flyover in south Delhi. "We have no village, no home, we're just here to earn." Delhi is home to nearly 1 lakh homeless people.
Over the last few months, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has undertaken a flyover beautification drive, under which flyovers have been painted, new grills have been erected around the spaces under them, and LED lights, plants and even yoga statues have been introduced. What has been removed, however, are the people who slept under these flyovers.
Some haven't gone far - they simply sleep right outside the barricades now. For the people sleeping at the IIT red light, walking 3 km to the closest government shelter home at AIIMS is not an option.
"Since this has been closed we are out in the cold, we get sick, the kids get sick," said a young woman holding a child, sitting under the IIT flyover. "The cars come, the smoke from them, the dew, and we get sick."
Twelve flyovers in south Delhi alone have been a part of the civic body's beautification drive. Most of the people living under these flyovers make a living selling balloons, books, and other knick knacks at traffic signals.
Civil society organizations like the Uday Foundation try to fill the gap with blanket distribution drives for those sleeping out in the cold, but beautification is far from the support they need.
"There is a lack of information about the government's shelters, and they do not want to go far from where they work because it is inconvenient and they are afraid of their things being stolen," said Nitesh Pandey a volunteer with the Uday Foundation. "They need to make homes close to where these people are, and they need to give people this information about where the homes are."
Last night, close to 14,000 people found a reprieve from the cold in Delhi's 257 night shelters. But a large shelter like AIIMS, which accommodates 400, is almost entirely used by patients and their relatives.
"We look at their Aadhaar card, their OPD card, and we let people stay just on the OPD card as well," said Anjani Kumar, a volunteer with the Prerna Foundation who takes care of the night shelter at AIIMS.
NGOs that work with the homeless find that many also avoid shelters because they are overcrowded, and there are concerns over hygiene as well. Erecting temporary tents on the sidewalks or huddling together around an open fire outside the flyover barricades provide little shelter from the cold, but it is what many migrant workers and labourers in Delhi prefer to night shelters.
"I am not going to any night shelters," said a woman who had erected a temporary tent of blankets on Aurobindo Marg in Delhi. "If they build a shelter right here then I'll go."