A balloon seller, Hira, fears she will have to go hungry for days. ‘‘Many have already left the city. The authorities have made no arrangements at the shelters where they are asking us to stay put,’’ she says. The message to the downtrodden is clear: don’t step out, lest the Games visitors spot you.
Delhi Police claims it is not carrying out any drive to clear the roads of beggars and has only provided a team of 25 personnel to the social welfare department for whatever action it takes to prevent beggary. The social welfare department, meanwhile, was not forthcoming with details and simply gave out a figure of 1300-odd beggars who have been rounded up since January. The department has come under criticism for not being able to work out a human solution to the problem of begging. It has failed to create a mechanism in which beggars can be productively involved in other tasks.
But even as the cops and the city government claim they are not carrying out any aggressive drive, one can see the beggars and homeless gradually disappearing. While a number of them have fled the city out of fear, those who are still in the midst of the storm are on vigil, always looking out for cops or the vehicle from Sewa Kutir which apprehends beggars. Hanuman Mandir complex is a case in point. Here, the number of beggars has significantly gone down but vagabonds can still be seen lost in deep slumber in the nearby subway. Hira, who lost her child last year after the MCD demolished a night shelter to beautify a park at the Pusa Road roundabout, now lives with 450 other homeless at a 24-hour MCD shelter in Motia Khan. For over a fortnight now, the men and women who sell balloons at traffic signals are being shooed away by the officials. As many are afraid to step out of the shelters set up by the civic agencies and run by NGOs, the homeless, beggars and destitute are already facing a food crisis.
Raju, another balloon seller, pointed out that he has six children and is now left with no money to buy food for them. Another inmate, Suresh, complained that he had been left without any means of sustenance. Kishan Lal’s grandmother died at the shelter on Sunday but he didn’t have the money for cremation. Finally, the others somehow pitched in for the last rites. A similar situation exists at the shelter at Kilokri near Ashram.
‘‘More and more people are taking refuge in shelters because they are afraid of being caught by the police or the anti-beggary squads which are very much on the job. The result is that these people have run out of money and now fear that hunger will strike soon. Even those on the streets are facing this issue,’’ Indu Prakash Singh, an expert on urban poverty and homelessness from Indo-Global Social Service Society, said.
The society on Monday, as part of the ‘City makers’ campaign, issued an urgent appeal to other civil society networks to come forward to help with ration supplies which can be distributed at the shelter homes.