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Day 49 – Q 3.Addressing homelessness is a big challenge for policy makers. Do you agree? What measures have been taken by the government to address homelessness? Comment upon their effectiveness.

3. Addressing homelessness is a big challenge for policy makers. Do you agree? What measures have been taken by the government to address homelessness? Comment upon their effectiveness. 

बेघरी की समस्या को हल करना नीति निर्माताओं के लिए एक बड़ी चुनौती है। क्या आप सहमत हैं? सरकार ने बेघरी को संबोधित करने के लिए क्या उपाय किए हैं? उनकी प्रभावशीलता पर टिप्पणी करें।


The Census of India defines ‘houseless population’ as persons who are not living in ‘census houses’. A ‘census house’ is a ‘structure with roof’. Census enumerators are instructed ‘to take note of the possible places where houseless populations are likely to live such as ‘on the roadside, pavements, in hume pipes, under staircases or in the open, temples, mandaps, platforms and the like’. Urban homeless persons in India to be at least around three million.

Supreme Court has held that the right to “dignified shelters” was a component of the Right to Life.


Homeless people live a life of destitution, combined with hunger, intense social devaluation and extreme vulnerability. Addressing these problems is a big policy challenge.  

Addressing homelessness is a big challenge for policy makers

  1. They usually lack even the elementary markers of citizenship (of poor people) in India like ration cards and voters’ identity cards.
  2. Although there was a provision for night shelters in earlier plans of the Government of India, even this provision has lapsed due to lack of initiative by state and local governments.
  3. Various stereotypes are associated with the urban homeless all over the world- including labelling the homeless as criminals, beggars, immoral, parasitic and so on.
  4. All self-help efforts for shelter and livelihoods by urban poor residents are stifled. 
  5. The courage, fortitude and sheer enterprise that allows them to survive on the streets is not recognized or channelized.
  6. Strong coordination is required among central, state and local governments. 

Steps taken by the government 

  • National Programme for the Urban Homeless – to create a network of composite shelters in the urban local bodies, with adequate provisions for housing and food for the destitute.
  • In October 2002, the scheme was renamed ‘Night Shelter for Urban Shelterless’ and was limited to the construction of composite night shelters with toilets and baths for the urban shelterless. These shelters were in the nature of dormitories/halls with plain floors used for sleeping at night. During the daytime, these halls were available for other social purposes such as health care centres, training centers for self-employment, adult education etc. This scheme was finally withdrawn in 2005 because most State Governments did not utilize the funds allotted to them properly.
  • The Government of India has formed new policies for affordable housing and shelters in urban areas in the past few decades.
  • To improve infrastructures in slums, the Supreme court mandated a new mission known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
  • The Public Distribution System (PDS) is one of the major services offered by the government to people living below the poverty line (BPL) in India.

Effectiveness of the steps taken by the government

  • Quality audit and social audit of each shelter is missing. 
  • Shelters are not promoted as an ‘entitlement’ of the homeless. Without such entitlement guarantees and accountability mechanisms, the initiation and implementation of the scheme was left to the state and municipal bodies or agencies designated by state governments, which tended not to give priority to such a programme.
  • Shelters are constructed using soft loans, which was not a viable design, because a programme for the most marginalised cannot be expected to raise resources internally to enable repayment. 
  • The shelters do not have strong programme linkages with other elements – the services in the shelters, food and other entitlements.
  • Extremely marginal allocations – both by central and state governments. 


District Planning Committees must be encouraged to consider proposals from city level committees for developing these sites and services through various sources like Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and local development funds, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).

In placing homeless persons outside the society of ‘legitimate urban residents’, we are in effect disenfranchising a large, powerless population. Therefore, both at the level of social attitudes and at the level of development policy, changes are urgently needed.

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