Empty government buildings can be homeless shelters, India top court says

In this file photo, a family gather under blankets to shelter from the cold beneath a flyover in Delhi, India. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Empty government buildings can be homeless shelters, India top court says

NEW DELHI: Local authorities should consider converting empty government properties into night shelters for the homeless, India’s highest court said, amid growing concern about the number of deaths on the streets during winter months.
The judges said on Thursday that altering existing properties would be the “best option” to address the needs of the homeless as it would not require states to spend money on building shelters.
The court’s directive — which is not binding — came after a particularly cold winter in Delhi with 44 deaths reported in the first week of the year alone, according to Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal commenting on media reports on Twitter.
One activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the court’s directive was “positive” and it echoed the recommendation of her organization and other campaigners.
“Not only would this be a more durable solution, but it would also be more cost-effective for state governments,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of the New Delhi-based advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network.
Census figures from 2011 showed about 1.8 million homeless people in India, although activists believe the true number is at least 3 million.
This week’s directive follows a 2012 ruling in which the Supreme Court ordered states to build shelters for the homeless.
Few states have complied, however, citing the high cost of land.
Rakesh Kumar Singh, a lawyer for Rajasthan state, said on Friday that the Supreme Court had asked state governments “to explore whether government buildings can be used as night shelters for homeless people.”
Many of India’s urban homeless are migrant workers who come to cities in search of jobs, and are forced to live in flimsy shacks and under flyovers because of a critical shortage of affordable housing.
Some states such as Gujarat and Bihar are building shelters for migrant workers, with options such as long-term rentals, clinics and family rooms.
“However, shelters are only the first step on a continuum of housing rights, and government efforts must be directed toward enabling the homeless to access adequate housing,” Chaudhry said.
The government’s Housing for All program aims to build 20 million urban housing units and 30 million rural homes by 2022.
With several states lagging behind on their targets, freeing up surplus land owned by government agencies such as the railways and ports for affordable housing could more easily help meet the goal, experts have said.


France, Saudi Arabia to hold Yemen humanitarian conference end June

Updated 24 May 2018
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France, Saudi Arabia to hold Yemen humanitarian conference end June

  • France and Saudi Arabia will co-host an international conference on Yemen in Paris
  • More than 10,000 people have been killed in a war that has displaced 3 million internally

PARIS: France and Saudi Arabia will co-host an international conference on Yemen in Paris in June to assess humanitarian needs for the country and possibly contribute to reviving U.N.-backed peace talks.
A Saudi-led coalition backed by the West has carried out air strikes against the armed Houthi movement in a war since 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in a war that has displaced 3 million internally and unleashed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the UN says.
"We are currently working on how to organise this conference with our various partners, Yemen and the United Nations," France's foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing on Wednesday.
"This conference should take stock of humanitarian needs, evaluate the assistance provided and the response mechanisms which need to be improved and define humanitarian actions to improve the situation of civilian populations."
The French president's office said the conference would take place at the end of June. A source aware of the plans said it was scheduled for June 27.
Von der Muhll declined to say whether Paris intended to invite representatives of the Iran-aligned Houthis.
"This work, which we want to be collective, can help to recreate the conditions for a resumption of political discussions under the auspices of the United nations," Von der Muhll said in a statement on Tuesday.
It is unclear how this would fit into the UN Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths' efforts. He said in April he wanted to present a plan for negotiations within two months to end the conflict, but warned that any new military offensives could "take peace off the table."
Three rounds of UN-backed peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, with the last held in Kuwait in August 2016, ended without success. Griffiths began his term in March in a bid by the U.N. to revive the stalled peace process.