Naveen, a rickhsaw puller and one among the approximately 1,50,000 homeless people in Delhi was found dead in a park by his friends two days ago.
His threadbare garments - a thin cardigan and a torn trouser- failed to protect him from the biting cold.
Like Naveen, Bhima, a balloon seller, had been found dead on the roadside a few weeks earlier. He too could not brave the chilly winter.
Fighting a battle of survival, as the minimum temperatures continue to remain low, only 5 to 7 per cent of the homeless people in the capital manage to find refuge in shelters, run either by government or non-governmental organisations.
The inadequate numbers of night shelters in the capital are leading to deaths for homeless people, who are there in numbers, claim NGOs.
Presently Delhi has 40 night shelters - 25 run by the MCD and 15 temporary structures run by the Delhi government for roughly 1,50,000 homeless people. Of these only two are for women and children, says NGO Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA).
Social organisations describe the situation as very grave. “Only 5 to 7 per cent of homeless people manage to find refuge in night shelters, which are run by either the government or the NGOs,” says Sanjay Kumar, Director Operations, AAA.
Finding a homeless fighting one of the coldest winters is not a tedious task. People like Naveen and Bhima are only two among countless who have been killed in the biting cold conditions.
For 56-year-old Janaki Tiwari who hails from Uttar Pradesh, struggle for existence begins at 5 pm every evening.
Equipped with a thin sweater and a shawl, he braves the chilly winter in the capital sitting under a construction site of Delhi Metro.
“The government spends so much on development works and flyovers. Can’t they provide us refuge? It’s very difficult to survive in this winter,” he says.
Ragpicker Shyam Pandey, who shares a space with Tiwari, arrived in Delhi last year to earn for a better life.
His job earns him not more than Rs 100. He says that he saves some waste newspapers and plastic items he picks to be used in bonfires to minimise the effect of cold.
“We don’t have any option but to make this our home. What we earn, we send a huge part of it to our families. There is no help from the government,” he says.
According to reports, more than 300 mostly homeless people have died in North India during the current cold snap.
Although his organisation has managed to help shelter about 3,000 homeless people, Mr. Sanjay Kumar says that there is a need of greater participation from government as well as ordinary people.
In 2002, the number of deaths reported in New Delhi due to a cold wave stood at 3,095, according to media reports.
The Delhi government, however, only declared 500 homeless to have died that winter due to cold.
An investigation also revealed that homeless people living on streets do not possess any form of identification and when interviewed some of them said their friends who died were cremated as unidentified men.
“In winters, it is very difficult to give everyone space in our shelters as homeless people come in huge numbers. We try to give them maximum facilities as per our ability. We have been working for it for the last 10 years,” says Mr. Kumar.
The social activists working for the welfare of poor people say that due to the massive construction activities for the Commonwealth Games, the national capital witnessed workers coming in from neighbouring states and their number grew rapidly. Such workers usually sleep outside for lack of proper accommodation.
An NGO, CWG-CWC estimates that there are about 8-10 lakh workers presently in the capital, largely migrants brought in from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand by contractors and sub-contractors.