“The soul of this splendour of Delhi is to share and care in a spirit of unity of humanity. Delhi is where the ancient saints of Islamic brotherhood and Christian compassion met and merged. It is this Delhi, which is the conscience of creation.”—Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer

Delhi is the best example of how not to govern. And the best way to understand this is through the lens of its homeless residents, whom we here call, CityMakers. The basis of this understanding is that: If there is even one homeless person in the country, it means we all are homeless.

Delhi is a limited state, or a Union Territory with a difference, with its elected government and a super-strong, unaccountable, arrogant, nonchalant bureaucracy - notwithstanding some very committed and sensitive bureaucrats. This bureaucracy reports to the Lieutenant-Governor. And that’s the bone of contention between the Delhi government and the central government, a decision on which (on services) is still pending with the Supreme Court of India. The order is due this week.

Due to this fractured, ruptured, transplanted administration, where the LG exerts pressure and creates bottlenecks, following the central government’s diktat for the Delhi government headed by Arvind Kejriwal, the work with CityMakers has got the worst drubbing.

The earlier chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, too used to crib about not having enough power, and rightly so. In the national capital region land, the police, the NDMC, SDMC, EDMC, North DMC, DCB, DDA, services, etc. happen to be the exclusive preserve of the bureaucracy, governed by the LG.

None of these bodies report to the Delhi government. Imagine a scenario where the top bureaucrats report to the LG and not the CM and other ministers. To do anything at all is indeed an uphill task.

And here lies the problem that we have been grappling with since 1999, when we started our work with CityMakers (a term we invented in 2010). From a point in 2001 when there were no research studies or publications, and only 10 night shelters, to today when we have over 270 (permanent, portacabins and tents) 24-hour shelters in Delhi, the highest anywhere in the world, it has been a long journey.

The bottlenecks we surmounted, were enough to dislodge this work for another hundred years. But we were driven by the passion of our freedom fighters and the spiritual seekers: Kabir, Buddha, Tagore, Rumi, Khalil Gibran, Thay, Richard Bach, Jiddu Krishnamurti, etc. So we turned every adversity into opportunity, kept innovating and raising the bar, and never relented.

Our allies in this work were a few voluntary organisations, the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, and the media. The press supported our work right from the beginning, due to which the world got to know of it and the problems encountered by CityMakers.

It was a media report on the December 25, 2009 demolition of a shelter by the MCD for the coming Commonwealth Games (reported in the Times of India by Ambika Pandit) and our organisation’s press conference on January 4, 2010, on the deaths of two CityMakers in that demolition, that led to the Delhi High Court’s taking up the matter suo moto, in a case that enhanced the number of shelters in Delhi, up from 19 to over 270.

A related petition we filed in 2003 - WP (C) 572 in the Supreme Court of India - got activated in 2013. Besides myself, Harsh Mander, Sandeep Chachra and two CityMaker friends are also petitioners here, and the case is being argued free of cost by Prashant Bhushan and Amita Joseph, supported by many young advocates, due to which many such shelters have now come up in the whole country.

Owing to these two petitions the Supreme Court appointed the Justice Kailash Gambhir Committee to report on the progress in this case after visiting many states, after the National Legal Services Authority failed to do a similar job assigned to it earlier. Justice Gambhir’s caustic report led to the appointing of a Supreme Court Monitoring Committees to monitor the Progress of Shelters for Urban Homeless, in all states, based on the apex court’s order of January 10, 2018.

The Delhi government constituted this committee on April 20, 2018. I am one of the members of this committee, which has by now met seven times. And not once has the Delhi administration’s Principal Secretary for Urban Development participated.

He too was made a member by the order, which has the LG’s approval. There is also a Supreme Court order making it clear that officials have to attend all these meetings. Due to his repeated absence the issuing of funds for new shelters and for renovating the older ones is hanging fire. The funds have yet to be disbursed to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board.

The bureaucratic stranglehold is so strong, that the DUSIB CEO rushed a tender process mandating shelter caretakers to be Class 10 pass, rendering many homeless caretakers with over 10-12 years’ experience redundant and jobless.

So there are only nine Shelter Management Agencies running over 270 shelters - with one of these having around 60 shelters to look after.

The journey for these SMAs is a journey away from care, nurture, commitment, towards lucre. So from Voluntary Organisations or VOs, the name has changed to non-governmental organisations or NGOs, to SMAs.

Non-profit to profit.

Instead of three caretakers for 8 hours each, SMAs employ two for 12 hours each. So much for heeding to the stipulations for minimum wage, PF and ESI.

The commercialisation of these organisations has also resulted in fabricated numbers of CityMakers sleeping in the shelters. The more they show, the more DUSIB pays them for tea and rusks in the winter months.

Education comes in handy here, for corrupt practices.

A large number of people still sleep in the open in Hauz Khas, Nehru Place, Nizamuddin, Karol Bagh, Asaf Ali Road etc. The rescue vans with each SMAs have turned stationary, or how else would a van be resting when a CityMaker is sleeping near it, parked near a shelter in Shankar Gali, Turkman Gate at 4 am on February 5?

In earlier times the government would put up temporary shelters under flyovers in the winter months. This was done in a big way in January 2014, when Arvind Kejriwal came to power for the first time. In mission mode these shelters came up under flyovers, where the homeless were sleeping in sizeable numbers.

But now the current LG, with bureaucrats from the PWD and the municipal corporations (East, South and North) has got the CityMakers out from under the flyovers, on the pretext of a beautification drive. Plants and illumination have taken their place under the flyovers, which has turned into a no human zone.

How can humans be ugly. There is no competition between humans and nature, nor should it ever be so. So why this? It’s simple: to the LG’s administration, the lives of CityMakers, the underserved, the impoverished, the opportunity-deficient, care-deficient, resource- deficient, asset-deficient, matter little.

In a laudable initiative Mahesh Kumar, the district magistrate of Shahdara and East Delhi, with the support of the Centre for Advocacy and Research, the Mahila Pragati Manch, ActionAid and the Sadik Masih Medical Social Servant Society, over 50 manual scavengers were retrained in housekeeping and were given job offer letters by the Delhi chief minister on November 6, 2018, as shelter caretakers/ housekeepers.

Afterwards many had to exit, for they had not passed their Class 10 exams.

Lest you think that Delhi is run by its elected government, the facts prove that a well-meaning Delhi government has done remarkable things in education, health (mohalla clinics, mobike ambulances), water, sanitation, electricity, protecting slums from getting demolished, etc. But on its own initiative. Working despite the bottlenecks created by the LG and his bureaucracy.

Much remains to be done. It’s time the residents of Delhi and the whole of India come out to support CityMakers, elected governments, and make Delhi a caring city. We must shatter the yoke of a dictatorial central government, its Lieutenant-Governor, and its bureaucracy.

Truly, the medicine administered Delhi by the central government, is best called poison.

Indu Prakash Singh is author of CityMakers: Tribulations & Triumphs: A Saga of the Heroic Struggle of the Homeless Residents of India.