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Official figures on homeless a gross underestimation

Deepa Kurup

‘Government should map areas where homeless are concentrated'


BANGALORE: Long after the pandemonium subsides, the narrow thoroughfares in Shivajinagar and the adjoining market areas are home to scores of people who sleep under the open sky. At least a couple of hundreds of men, women and children work in this commercial centre, and “reserve” street corners or pavements to rest at night-time.

So when the State Government's survey of the homeless in Bangalore finds that only 588 people are shelterless in the Bangalore East Zone (which has an estimated population of around 19 lakh), it would appear a “gross underestimation”. The survey, conducted in August 2010 in eight Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike zones, pegs the figure at an unbelievably low 2,868. The number for the State, including eight city corporations, is 7,561.

In Bangalore, the Mahadevpura zone has the maximum number of homeless (1,612) followed by Bangalore East (588), Bangalore South (222), Yelahanka (133), Bangalore West (117), Bommanahalli (108), Rajarajeshwari Nagar (60) and Dasarahalli (18).

Just 70 shelters

These numbers are important, for it will form the basis of the Government's plans to implement the Supreme Court's directive to build shelters for the homeless. To be implemented at the earliest in 62 cities, the Supreme Court order specified a ratio of at least one shelter per lakh citizens. By that estimate, the Government decided that Bangalore should build 70 shelters for the homeless.

Civil society groups have contested the Government's statistics. For instance, a survey conducted by the Indo-Global Social Service Society in March found nearly 18,000 shelterless people on the streets of Bangalore, a figure that is at a variance with the government survey.

A beginning

Speaking to The Hindu, Anjum Parvez, Director, Directorate of Municipal Administration, the nodal agency in charge of providing shelters, says: “These numbers hardly matter. The point is that we have to start making the shelters, and if we find the demand is more in a certain area, we will build more shelters there.”

He adds that the BBMP has been asked to identify land for at least two shelters in each zone. These will be open round the clock to provide basic amenities and safety, and community kitchens. Mr. Parvez points out that funds are readily available under the Basic Services to the Urban Poor schemes, and said that the Government is keen on getting this project on the road.

‘Ridiculously low'

Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of its interim orders, concedes that the Karnataka figures are a “gross underestimation”. Unofficial estimates of urban spaces peg the number of homeless in most cities at one per cent, excluding children, and by these standards, the government figure is “ridiculously low”.

However, he points out that the headcount approach to providing for the homeless hardly works. “If Bangalore needs 70 shelters, the State Government needs to map the concentration of the homeless rather than do a simple headcount. A profile of the homeless in each area must be made before shelters are built,” he explains.

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