INDIA: Urgent actions required to address the situation of the homeless during winter 

Dear friends,

We wish to share with you the following statement from the Supreme Court Commissioners on the question of the Right to Food in India concerning the homeless persons living in the national capital, New Delhi.

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

A Statement from Supreme Court Commissioners forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

13 January 2010

Supreme Court of India
New Delhi

Subject: Relief for homeless people living on the streets of Delhi, in the context of cold-wave related deaths

Dear Sir,

The Commissioners of the Supreme Court would like to bring to the notice of the Honourable Supreme Court the appalling conditions of the right to food and shelter of people living on the streets in Delhi, especially in the current context of extreme cold weather. There have been several reports in the media in the last few days regarding deaths of homeless people as a result of the very low temperatures experienced by Delhi this year. These deaths could have been avoided had there been proper implementation of directions of the Honourable Supreme Court of India (in CWP 196/ 2001) with regard to the food schemes on the food including the ICDS, MDMS, PDS, NREGA, Antodaya Yojana, NOAPS, NFBS and NMBS in the state of Delhi and further, provision of shelter for people living on the streets.

Vulnerability of Homeless People

It must be realized that malnutrition and hunger are the underlying causes making people susceptible to extreme weather conditions. There is ample scientific evidence that shows that due to an increase in the basal metabolism rate (BMR) with a fall in temperature, higher calories are required by the body to maintain body temperature. For instance a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Nutritional Needs in Emergencies states, “A cold environment increases an individual’s energy expenditure—especially if shelter, clothing and/or heating are inadequate. Current convention uses an average temperature of 20ºC as a base, adding an allowance of 100 kcal for every 5º below 20ºC as shown in the box below:

Adjustments to energy requirement mean daily temperature
20° C
15° C + 1 0 0 k c a l
10° C + 2 0 0 k c a l
5° C + 3 0 0 k c a l
0° C + 4 0 0 k c a l

Source: The management of nutrition in major emergencies. WHO. Geneva, 2000”

Therefore, people require more food to remain healthy, as the temperature decreases. This makes homeless people who already have low levels of access to nutritional food and high malnutrition rates, vulnerable to cold weather.

Further, studies have also shown that the limited resources available with homeless people are spent on keeping themselves warm when there is a major dip in temperatures, resulting in a shift of expenditures away from food and other essential items. This again is one the reasons why, homeless people require additional nutritional support, especially during severe weather conditions .

Negligence by Delhi Government

While Delhi this year is witnessing some of the coldest temperatures in the last decade, the Government of Delhi has not taken the required steps to protect the people living on the streets from this extreme weather. While during last year, there were 46 shelters during winters, which included 17 permanent shelters and 29 temporary shelters, this year the number has been reduced to 33 (17 permanent + 16 temporary shelters). Further, out of these 16 shelters, one was demolished. It is imperative that the Government of Delhi responds to this situation immediately by setting up more shelters and protecting homeless people from the cold.

Further, in spite of repeated reminders from the Supreme Court Commissioners, the Government of Delhi is yet to distribute ration cards to homeless people in Delhi for nearly three years after these directions. The Commissioners had directed the Delhi state government in its letter dated March 2007 to cover all homeless populations by AAY cards in six months from the date of instruction. The Delhi government decided in the deliberations of the cabinet that the homeless families would be identified among the poorest of the poor, or Antyodaya. In compliance with these decisions and instructions, the Commissioner of Food and Civil Supplies, Government of Delhi, undertook with the help of civil society organisations a massive survey over the seven months of homeless families in many corners of the city. Up to now, it completed the survey of around 15,000 urban homeless families. While some of these people were symbolically given ration cards by the Chief Minister in a public function on August 15th, 2009, none of them have yet been able to lift any rations using these cards. Further, most of those identified by the survey are yet to even receive ration cards.

Orders of the Delhi High Court on the issue of shelter for the homeless

The issue of recent deaths of people living on the streets due to lack of shelter and protection from the cold and eviction of people from existing shelters in Delhi was brought to the notice of the Delhi High Court by some civil society groups. The High Court of Delhi took cognizance of this and has issued interim orders to the following effect on 13 Jan 2010:

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been directed to provide shelter for everyone in the long run and in the short run the High Court has ordered the immediate installation of adequate tents and blankets at Pusa Road, to accommodate all the people who were earlier there.

– The High Court has stated that no further evictions should be allowed anywhere in Delhi during the winter.
– The MCD has also been asked to provide its policy on night shelters.
– The High Court has also asked the MCD for its plan to meet the requirements of the Master Plan of providing 140 shelters in Delhi.

Accountability of the Government and Chief Secretary

As per the direction of this Honourable Court in CWP 196 of 2001 dated 08.05.2002 and 29.10.2002 it has been clearly stated that the accountability of any starvation deaths lies with the Chief Secretary. It has also been mandated by this Honourable Court that the Chief Secretary will be responsible for any persistent default in compliance with the orders. In the context of Delhi, with multiple authorities, this responsibility must include the Municipal Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Chairperson of New Delhi Municipal Corporation and CEO of the Cantonment Board. This Honourable Court had directed the undersigned to monitor the implementation of its orders and make representations wherever necessary to the concerned State Government. On a number of occasions said representations have been made to the State Government, but to no avail.

Further, this Honourable Court has categorically stated that one of the prime responsibilities of the government whether Central or State is prevention of hunger and starvation. It has further laid down in detail that the Gram Sabhas are mandated to conduct social audits and ensure the implementation of the orders of this Honourable Court and the various schemes of the Government.

Further, by refusing to provide ration cards to the homeless in Delhi and by reducing the number of night shelters that are utilized by the homeless especially in the present weather conditions the Government of NCT of Delhi has violated the fundamental rights of the homeless persons guaranteed under Chapter III of the Constitution of India. Specifically, the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 has been infringed by the Government of NCT of Delhi. The state government has violated the right to access to food read under the right to life that has been guaranteed before and is also specifically being sought in the present case before this Honourable Court, the right to shelter a guaranteed by this Honourable Court in Olga Tellis v. UOI. The right to live with human dignity, includes the right to the basic necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter, and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human self as guaranteed by this Honourable Court in Francis Coralie v. Administrator, UT of Delhi and Ors. It is on these grounds that the following directions are being sought.

Directions Sought

It is proposed that the following steps are immediately undertaken to ensure state accountability for the food and shelter rights of the homeless people in the state of Delhi:

1. Direct the Government of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Cantonment Board to set up at least 100 temporary shelters for people living on the streets within the next one week.
2. Direct the Government of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Cantonment Board to set up at least 140 permanent shelters for people living on the streets by December 2010.
3. Direct the Government of Delhi to set up at least 500 community kitchens across the city, providing nutritious and cheap cooked food.
4. Issue AAY ration cards for all homeless people in Delhi, with a validity of at least two years, renewable if they remain homeless in Delhi, latest by March 31, 2010.
5. Direct the Government of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Cantonment Board to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court on the steps undertaken to protect the food and shelter rights of homeless people in the city, by 15th February 2010.


Dr. N. C. Saxena, Commissioner
Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner of the Supreme Court

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-005-2011
Countries : India,
Issues : Poverty & adequate standard of living, Right to food,