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.


Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

Updated 20 August 2018
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Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

  • An estimated 800,000 people have taken shelter in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala
  • 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century

KOCHI, India: Torrential rain finally let up in India’s flood-hit Kerala state on Sunday, giving some respite for thousands of marooned families, but authorities feared an outbreak of disease among around 725,000 people crammed into relief camps.
Incessant downpours since Aug. 8 have caused the worst floods in a century in the southwestern state, and close to 200 people have perished in the rising waters and landslides.
The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall in only one or two parts of Kerala on Sunday and withdrew a red alert in several districts.
Using boats and helicopters, India’s military led rescue efforts to reach people in communities cut off for days, with many trapped on roofs and upper floors, in desperate need of food and clean water.
A Reuters photographer on a naval helicopter said water levels had receded in villages around the city of Kochi.
Rescue teams were focused on the town of Chengannur on the banks of the Pamba River, where about 5,000 people are feared to be trapped, officials said.
Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said the total number of people taking refuge at the 5,645 relief camps had risen to 725,000.
Thirteen deaths were reported on Sunday, he added, taking the total number confirmed to nearly 200.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, nearly 250 km (155 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
He said the department was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps.

DESTROYED
Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen more than 250 percent more rain than normal between Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. State authorities have had to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the main river.
As the rain abated on Sunday morning, 60-year-old T P Johnny visited his home in Cheranelloor — a suburb of Kochi situated on the banks of the Periyar river — to see when he and his family could return.
“The entire house is covered with mud. It will take days to clean to make it liveable. All our household articles, including the TV and fridge have been destroyed,” he told Reuters.
The beaches and backwaters of Kerala are top destinations for domestic and international tourists, but far fewer visit during the monsoon season.
Kochi’s airport is closed due to waterlogging, and Jet Airways has arranged additional flights from Thiruvananthapuram for passengers holding confirmed tickets from Kochi.
India’s national carrier, Air India, will operate ATR flights from the naval airport in Kochi to Bangalore and Coimbatore, starting Monday.
Late on Saturday, the chief minister had said that there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up before a local festival.
“The only problem is transporting it,” he told reporters. “The central government and public have cooperated well in this effort to fight this disaster.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, has also offered assistance to the state. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani has also announced $5 million aid.
($1 = 70.09 Indian rupees)