Judicial directions to establish winter shelters

We salute & urge the Court to include Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand

Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood

Yesterday, the Supreme Court has directed the governments of five northern states (UP, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh) to build sufficient number of shelter homes for homeless people ahead of the upcoming winter season. Sending a stern warning to the state governments, a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu said the states will have to face consequences if they fail to put shelter homes before the onset of winter. ‘We will be very harsh to you if the shelter homes are not ready,’ the bench said. I join the nation in saluting the Supreme Court for its compassion and benevolence.

The bench was hearing a PIL seeking its direction to governments to build shelter homes as many homeless people die due to cold in winter. The bench said that it will send court commissioners to find out whether the governments have set up night shelters or not. The apex court had earlier passed a series of orders for providing shelter to homeless people saying that right to shelter is a fundamental right.

The apex court said that nothing is more important for the State than to preserve and protect the lives of the vulnerable, weak, poor and helpless people. The threat to life is particularly imminent in the severe and biting cold winter, especially in the northern India, the Court added.

We are, however, aware that the coldest place in north India is Kashmir valley and the second coldest is Uttarakhand. As I write this (Nov 1) the normal temperature in Srinagar is hovering around 16 degree Celsius – lower than any other state capital of north India; during Dec-Jan, as per the international weather data portal AccuWeather.Com, the average temperature in the valley goes down to 8 to 3 degrees. As against that, the average temperature in Mussoorie & Shimla now is 19 degrees while during Dec-Jan it goes down to 15-10 degrees. Thus during the winter season the weather conditions in Uttarakhand remain broadly like those in Himachal Pradesh; together, after Kashmir valley, these two states remain second coldest. Needless to add, per capita GDP of Uttarakhand & Himachal Pradesh is almost double that of Jammu & Kashmir. On the other hand, during winter season, the temperature in Delhi, UP, Rajasthan and Haryana remains higher than Kashmir valley by 15+ and than Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand by 7+ degrees.

Also, there have been recent floods in J & K which have frozen even the necessities of life including homes, beds, mattresses, blankets, quilts and hearth etc. Moreover, the attention and resources of the J & K and central governments has now been diverted to preparing for the polls that should have been postponed till after the winter season is over.

In view of the absolute paucity of time caused by the imminent onset of the fast approaching cold weather on the hills, we would respectfully urge the Hon’ble Supreme Court to kindly treat this write up as PIL and (a) include the states of J&K and Uttarakhand in the list of states to whom directions have been issued by the Supreme Court to establish winter shelters for the needy. (b) Direct the central and J&K Governments to ensure not only shelter but also warm beddings, warm clothes (pharons) and other basic necessities of life to the tens of thousands of people of Kashmir who got deprived of these amenities due to recent floods. (b) Direct the authorities that the hundreds of government houses that remain vacant in the valley during the winters when the state government Darbar shifts to Jammu should be allotted to those people of the valley who otherwise cannot be readily provided with warm shelters and (d) in order to facilitate the implementation of these humanitarian instructions, direct the Election Commission to postpone the J & K state elections till April 2015; Delhi’s is a case in view where elections are being postponed for several months in row, though not because of any natural disaster.

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