Left out in the cold: Gurugram night shelter says no to ‘vagabonds’

This December has been one of the coldest that Gurugram has witnessed in the past several decades. But despite near-freezing temperature, the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram’s Sheetla Mata Mandir night shelter was nearly empty on December 24 when The Hindu made an on-spot visit.

In a city where hundreds, including children, spend the night shivering on pavements or under flyovers, the shelter’s register for December 23 showed that only 39 people had stayed in the facility, which has a capacity to accommodate 150 people.

The two-storey shelter — one of the largest among the eight such facilities run by the civic body — provides drinking water and toilets. There is also a guard.

The security staff of the nearby temple inform that only devotees are allowed inside the shelter. The facility’s guard, Prakash Negi, said that “vagabonds” are turned away as it is not “safe” to allow them inside with the devotees — mostly families with female members.

The 39 people that stayed in the shelter on December 23 were all devotees, he added.

Assistant Sub-Inspector Rajender Kumar, who is attached to the Sheetla Mata police post, said there was no separate space for the devotees and that “the homeless and the worshippers cannot be allowed to stay together”. “The vagabonds are mostly drunk, disoriented or drug addicts. What if they misbehave with a woman or a girl devotee? We cannot even ask for their identity cards and most of them do no have it. So, we do not allow the homeless inside. The matter has been brought to the notice of the temple management but the issue is yet to be resolved,” said Mr. Kumar, wrapped in a blanket with a heater humming nearby.

Four to five guards are on night duty at the shrine but it is not enough for the sprawling premises, he added.

The devotees throng the temple during Shukla Paksha (waxing moon) on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays; the shelter, therefore, lies mostly vacant during Krishna Paksha (waning moon), said the staff.

Other night shelters

Besides the Sheetla Mata Mandir night shelter, the municipal corporation runs facilities in Bhim Nagar and Kanhai village, which have a total capacity of around 200. The three facilities are situated inside permanent structures. The rest of the shelters, at Rajiv Chowk, Sohna Chowk, Rao Mahabir Singh Chowk (near bus stand), Railway Station and IFFCO Chowk, run from inside porta cabins with a capacity to hold 8-10 people each.

Two more shelters at Kadipur and Badshahpur are under construction.

No food, water

Most of the people at the Bhim Nagar facility complained that free food was not available this year, unlike the previous years. The canteen providing subsided food at ₹10 per person shut down six months ago.

It had been inaugurated by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar under the Antyodaya Aahar Yojana last year.

Bablu, a daily-wager, said there was also no arrangement for drinking water and the submersible pump had not been working for the past three days leaving them without a drop of water in the toilets. “There are only two toilets for more than 50 people and one of them has been locked for a long time. It would be better if mobile toilets can be stationed here,” he said.

A municipal staff member staying on the premises — the facility has rooms for the Group-D employees — said they have to fetch drinking water from the nearby fire station or buy bottles. He said that the local councillor, Rajni Sahni, who also has an office on the premises, is aware of the issue but has done nothing.

Fifty-year-old Mahender, another daily-wager, has been a regular at the shelter for over 12 years. He is satisfied with the facilities but rued that there was no arrangement for medicines, not even for common ailments such as fever and body ache.

Rakesh, another inmate, said that most of the people who come to the shelter are drunk and create a nuisance.

Security guard Virender Bahadur Singh confirmed that many people came drunk to the shelter but he was helpless to do anything about the menace.

“At least two guards should be deployed for better management,” he said, adding that the shelter recently received around 100 new mattresses and quilts after a gap of several years.

‘Looking into issues’

MCG night shelters nodal officer Mahender Singh said he was recently made aware of the issue at the Sheetla Mata Mandir night shelter, and a room close to the temple’s main gate was being renovated to be used as a night shelter.

The officer added that the canteen at the Bhim Nagar facility had shifted to Khandsa Road and that the administration was in talks with private firms to arrange free food for the inmates under the Corporate Social Responsibility scheme.

He also promised to look into complaints of shortage of water, locked toilets and extra guards at the Bhim Nagar facility.

‘Need more shelters’

“People, including children, sleeping under flyovers is a common sight at Subhash Chowk, near HUDA City Centre metro station, Civil Lines bus stand and Kanhai village,” said Vijay Kumar, assistant project coordinator of CHETNA, an NGO.

He added that the combined capacity of the night shelters in the city should be 1,000, and more shelters should be built along Sohna Road in Badshahpur and the outskirts of the city.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 6:14:09 PM |

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