Open letter to Police Commissioner and DDA Vice Chairman with reference to MCD-ActionAid "consultation" of 25/07/2003

In June 2000 some NGOs counted, under Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan project of Action Aid, 53000 persons sleeping on streets in Delhi. On the basis of a survey of 600 of these, Action Aid, etc, have been guiding policy since and on 25.07.03 called a convention at IHC to advocate Delhi Master Plan provisions for NGO-run night-shelters with scope for commercial utilisation by day. At the convention DDA expressed the view that the Master Plan adequately provides for night shelter, but adequacy of the Plan seems to inexplicably be an unacceptable premise. Swami Nityanand, sharing dais with the Chief Minister, offered to Amod Kanth, convening the session on behalf of Action Aid, 1000 shelters in temples, but this offer was disregarded and on 26.07.03 newspapers reported that CM had decided to issue BPL ration cards to priests. Planners at the convention about Master Plan issues for night shelter suggested management by Delhi Police, but Harsh Mander of Action Aid rejected this suggestion. The NGO-Government consensus in the matter of shelter for 53,000 persons counted sleeping on Delhi’s streets was clearly in favour of a few of about 50,000 NGOs in Delhi. If this is deliberately ignoring traditional solutions and constitutional obligations of the welfare state, there is cause for concern. And if such small welfare has really become beyond the capacities of traditional and constitutional mechanisms and needy of international charity, there is cause for greater concern.

Delhi Police Commissioner might want to consider night shelter management by Delhi Police, especially in view of CM’s no-confidence remarks at the convention, on the following grounds:

  1. By law, Police is responsible for people sleeping in public places. It has been discharging this responsibility with "police brutality", but there is nothing stopping "police hospitality" instead.
  2. People sleep on streets all over the city, community halls, etc, are not available everywhere, but Delhi Police stations and offices are and are also adequate for sheltering the homeless at night. Such use is not restricted by the Master Plan since this is arguably a Police function.
  3. CM said she advised street children to rely on whistles not Police for help against abuse and, in face of Police harassment, to get together and beat up the cops. The despair that drove CM to make such suggestion and a statement about it, does make it incumbent on Delhi Police to change "brutality" to "hospitality" to reassure the city such whistle blowing is unnecessary.
  4. On-going community-policing and bhagidari schemes can be used to draw support from citizens, citizens’ groups and NGOs for night shelter interventions managed by the Police.
  5. On the other hand, alternatives without Police will create a situation where few will get shelter and more from NGOs and many will continue to suffer Police brutality and state indifference.
  6. Central role of Police is also imperative for security reasons, so that criminal and anti-social elements do not masquerade as either NGOs or homeless.

DDA Vice-Chairman might want to take note of the following, arguably legal, problems with the NGO proposals for space for NGO-managed shelter arrangements mooted at the convention:

  • Master Plan, and Constitution, require housing the homeless. It is illogical to fritter away land on interim measures that divert attention and resources from durable solutions. It is incorrect to eye "un-utilised" spaces for shelters, as decisions about if and what can happen where need to be taken holistically and not on basis of uni-perspective "demands". And commercial misuse of shelters for raising revenue to run them is illegal as land policy requires cross-subsidy through planned development at area / city level and not through profiteering or misuse on each plot.
  • There is basis in the Master Plan for use of "under-utilized" spaces for night shelters, but the suggestions put forth at the convention, while they allow possibilities for NGO control, are inconsistent with basic premises of the Plan and take from rights of the poor to give them favour:
    • Basti Vikas Kendras and Community Halls are not suited for night shelters as they are meant for local development and community needs and not for NGOs to run, for non-local benefit, night shelters, HIV/AIDS centres, Cancer Care centres, etc
    • Private schools are not appropriate for night shelters as these are not discharging their mandatory responsibility of 25% share for the poor in their educational facilities and really have no right to use cheaply allotted land for wilful favours to earn respectability, etc.
    • Government schools are not appropriate for night shelters as they are often short of Master Plan standards and in poor condition, in need of more facilities and not more utilization.

I did raise the above points in the brief intervention allowed to me at the convention and inexplicably even attracted spontaneous applause. However, media reports suggest that the press release, and presumably "policy recommendations", make no mention of them. Hence this letter, which I am also placing in public domain in the hope of somewhat more inclusive and objective civil society participation. (As an after thought, in reaction to Harsh Mander’s concern about hunger, besides homelessness, within the paradigm of the emergent consensus, take-over of just IHC would suffice!).

Gita Dewan Verma / Planner / 27.07.03