We have severe winters every year and the sign of a good administration is preparing for it well in advance. But there are no signs of the state administration either planning or preparing for the winters, and it is going to be the poor and homeless people of our state who will suffer.We recently celebrated our 68th year of Independence and it is indeed sad that even basic amenities like shelter, food and jobs are lacking for the poor. Each year, parts of Haryana record some of the lowest temperatures, with cold wave killing several people. Despite this, the state administration has not bothered to take any urgent steps to address the problem. We all know that it takes several months for a Rain Basera (Night Shelter) to come up. There is a process of issuing of tenders, releasing funds, preparing the site and then arranging other amenities like, mattresses, blankets, hot water, etc. We have not seen any activity on this front from the state government, as yet.Providing the facility of Rain Basera to people requires detailed planning, well in advance. There are two types of Night shelter that is required in the state.
Permanent Night Shelters
These are permanent Night Shelters that have sites earmarked and a permanent brick & mortar building is built. These have dormitory style facilities to sleep and there is a separate common toilet for men and women.
Temporary Night Shelters
These are Night Shelters that are put up just before the winter sets in and removed once winter gets over. Once these temporary structures are removed, after the winters, the same site can be used for other activities like parking or playground, etc.
There are several low cost technologies available that are well-suited for this purpose. There are ground+one storey structure that are made using sandwich wall panels that use an insulation material called Polystyrene (Expanded Polystyrene EPS). The insulation ensures that during winters there is no transfer of the outside cold to the inner walls, while in summers the outside heat does not transfer to the inner walls. These sandwich wall panels are light weight with the building frame structure made from light weight steel.
There are bio-toilets that can be used here that will reduce the need for any extensive sewage to be put up. These are hygienic, use less water and the waste can be converted to organic manure. A 1000 sq ft ground + one storey building can be put up in one day or maximum two days, using nut-bolt technology. Removing these structures also take one-two days only.
Why is it that the state government has not adopted these as yet? Is it lack
of resources or a lack of interest? Are the poor a matter of low priority?
If we are aware of both problem and the solution, then why is it that the state government is still sleeping? If any facility has to be provided, action has to be taken now, only then will the night shelters be ready by November end/early December, when the real winter starts to set in.
In April 2013, the state government announced with great fanfare that Rs. 100 crore has been allocated for building Night shelters in the state. Has there been any audit on what was promised, how much was actually released and how many shelters have been constructed till date? And what is the condition of these shelters?
If Rs. 100 crore was allotted in April 2013 then how is it that in the third week of January 2014, the state government announced that they were converting two state-run buses into night shelters? Why did the government have to wait for one year and then when most of the winter was almost over, they announced converting a few buses? Putting up a few buses is no solution. Firstly, this was done late, as most of the winter was almost over. Secondly, buses provide very little protection from the severe cold. Thirdly, the state roadways lose revenue.
The solution that we have suggested for temporary night shelters are easier to put up, safer, warmer and can easily be dismantled, in a short time and stored until the next winter. In various parts of the world, these are being used and there is no reason why the state government cannot explore the possibility of using these.
Another aspect is the use of mobile toilets. The state government did install some of these near these bus shelters. But has anyone seen the condition of these toilets? These are filthy, extremely unhygienic and poorly maintained. The problem is that state government simply installs these and then washes their hands of any responsibility of maintaining them. The people may be poor but they too deserve cleanliness and hygiene with dignity.
There is a need for these shelters to be located near public areas like train stations, bus stands etc., and are needed at the tehsil level, if not every village. Besides the poor and homeless people in our own state, there is a lot of migrant labour that comes to the state to seek employment and most of them live in the open using plastic sheet tents. We need to take a humanitarian approach to all people in the state and we need to prioritise this as winter will be upon us pretty soon. But does the state administration really care? The poor have no voice but it is our responsibility to raise it on their behalf. It is time for the Chief Minister to act and instruct immediate action on this. We hope the state government is listening.