This exceptionally harsh winter season once again underlines how cruel it can be to the homeless poor, exposed as they are to its bone-chilling elements. Their plight is rendered sorrier in the event of the non-availability of welfare measures that the state has undertaken for them. Amply illustrative of the all-round governmental apathy is the wretched state of the destitute of Hisar in Haryana, which has been freezing at near-zero temperatures. It is unpardonable that they are spending the nights in the open despite there being a raen basera (night shelter with dry ration and cooked food, available free of cost) for them. This is counterproductive and amounts to criminal waste of resources. In the recent past, in Faridabad, which has eight shelters, the needy have been reportedly not taking refuge in them. Similarly, there were few takers for the lone roof in Rohtak as the impoverished and disabled huddled in makeshift shelters on footpaths in the intense cold.
The poor occupancy of the night shelters speaks volumes of the implementation and management of the schemes meant for the intended beneficiaries. Problems needing urgent redress include lack of awareness about the shelters, unattractive amenities and difficult-to-reach locations. Having been ticked off by the Supreme Court in 2017 over aid to the urban homeless, the Khattar government was quick to announce the setting up of nearly 150 raen baseras and mobile night shelters across the state.
Crores of rupees have been spent on these structures, The modern one in Karnal boasts of dormitories, beds, mattresses, toilet, geyser, kitchen, solar power, RO water and CCTVs. Grants worth lakhs are sanctioned under various welfare schemes to keep the homes running with the help of municipal corporations and NGOs. The homeless in Haryana number more than 50,000 (0.2 per cent of the population) as per the 2011 Census. It is a shame that the shelters which should be the go-to havens for the needy, especially during inclement weather, are not being put to optimum use. Commitments and slogans like ‘home for all by 2022’ ring hollow and far-fetched in this scenario.