India is considered to be the largest democracy of the world, which is governed by an elaborate and detailed written constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution has used the terms like “Socialist”, “Social and Economic Justice”, “Equality” etc, these terms indicate that the state would extensively involve in social welfare of people, and would try to establish an egalitarian society. Moreover a separate chapter of Directive Principles of State Policy1 has been devoted towards the welfare responsibilities of the government, which lays down the norms of ideal governance for people’s welfare. In winter nights Homeless people have a tough time. This year also 150 people died2 as per statistics. Every year in winters when temperature goes below 5 degree and everything freezes people who are homeless have a tough time. Supreme Court of India in People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.3 held States to ensure that all shelter homes are constructed as expeditiously as possible. Court also directed to give adequate publicity of existence of night shelters in their States both through print and electronic media so that maximum number of needy and homeless people could avail facilities.
The states also formulated a policy. According to the policy:
a) The goal of the State Government was to set up shelters on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis for homeless population in cities with arrangements for running, managing and overseeing so as to ensure their right to life with dignity;
b) The State shall strive to establish one shelter for every lakh of city population within reasonable period of time with a maximum 100 inmates per shelter separately for women and men. In particular, the following measures shall be adopted in a time bound manner towards the attainment of provision of basic amenities in these shelters:
- Mattresses/be-rolls, blankets
- Potable drinking water
- Functional latrines
- First Aid
- Primary health services with tie-up with existing facilities
- De-addiction link up with existing centers
- Reasonable recreation facilities.
Special efforts will be made to take care of the needs of children, women, mentally retarded, old and infirm inmates with opportunities explored for bringing them under purview of existing State run or supported homes.
c) In formulating schemes for providing shelters for homeless in the cities, priority shall be given to:
- Location of shelters in places of high concentration 6 of such population subject to availability of unused, vacant government buildings or rented accommodation in space-starved cities like Kolkata;
- Developing a public-private mode of operation, management and oversight mechanism with scope of consultation and discussion with homeless persons/organizations representing them.
d) The Government shall endeavor that adequate resources are provided for setting up of shelters for homeless population in the cities. At the same time Civil Society Organizations and voluntary organizations engaged in the field of shelter for homeless will continue to have the opportunity to set up or run, either on their own or with State assistance, such shelters for homeless so that the endeavor of State and voluntary efforts complement each other.
As per the Model Scheme there could be two types of shelters:
- General shelter, with segregation between different categories of people, I.e. men, women, children, physically handicapped, mentally challenged, people involved in substance use.
- Specialized shelter for special categories of people I.e., women, children, physically handicapped, mentally challenged, people involved in substance use.
In today’s time it seems that the policies of government are not in conformity with the obligations of a welfare state. By taking pro-corporate stand, and neglecting the plight of the people, the state is derogating from its constitutional responsibilities of creating an egalitarian society and providing social and economic justice. It has to be remembered that people are not just means to achieve higher economic growth, but they are ends in themselves; every policy of government must put the people at the centre of it as beneficiaries.
1 Some of the directive principles are: Article 39(a): The state shall direct its policy towards securing adequate mean of livelihood to man and woman; Ar. 39 (A): Promotion of justice, equal opportunities, and free legal aid; Ar. 41: Security of work, to education, and to public assistance in several cases; Ar. 42: Security of just and humane conditions of work; Ar. 45: Free and compulsory education to every child till the age of 14 years, etc.
About the Author
Kush is a practicing lawyer at Delhi High Court. He graduated from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India in 2012 and has authored a book titled – Be Your Own Lawyer.