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.


Watchdog urges Russia world cup opening boycott over Syria

Updated 22 May 2018
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Watchdog urges Russia world cup opening boycott over Syria

BEIRUT: World leaders should boycott Russian President Vladimir Putin’s VIP box at next month’s World Cup opening unless he takes steps to protect Syrian civilians, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Russia, which hosts the world’s most-watched sporting event for the first time this year, is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and arguably the most powerful broker in the seven-year-old war.
“In hosting one of the most televised events in the world, Russia is courting world public opinion and looking for respect,” HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in a statement.
“World leaders should signal to President Putin that unless he changes track and acts to end atrocities by Russian and Syrian forces in Syria, they won’t be in their seats in the VIP box with him on opening night.”
Billions of people worldwide are expected to watch the World Cup on television and HRW argued that Moscow’s responsibility in the suffering of Syrian civilians should not be forgotten.
Russia is the main exporter of weaponry to the Syrian regime and its forces provide on-the-ground support to government forces and allied militia.
The New York-based watchdog has documented Russian-Syrian joint military operations that “have caused thousands of civilian casualties,” including recently in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Roth warned that millions of other civilians faced the same fate in upcoming operations, especially in the northwestern province of Idlib that still largely escapes government control.
“World leaders should not allow a sporting event to gloss over a pattern of atrocities in Syria that now looms over two million civilians,” he said.