Smoky initiative for Slum dwellers: Bonfires do little for the poor

The initiatives for Slum dwellers and destitute in India are disjointed and half-hearted. A ‘night shelter’ might be a beeter idea than lighting bonfires in winter.

Bonfires do little for the poor
2 Jan 2009

LUCKNOW: He can be seen roaming between wireless crossing in Mahanagar to Dandaiya in Aliganj. With only a cloth wrapped around his body, the man desperately looks for cigarette butts thrown for a few puffs of heat. Shyam and his family of six tries to fend off the cold in his hut under Nishatganj bridge by covering themselves with a waste polythene sheet which they had found abandoned by a vendor after the ‘buddh ka bazar’ (Wednesday market in Gol Market of Mahanagar) the other day.

For thousands of destitute and slum dwellers, winter has been harsh and the bonfires arranged by Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC) at 34 places in the city have proved to be too little. Many have taken shelter in and around various railway stations of the city. Many could be seen taking shelter in the corridors of medical university. Just take a round of the city in the night and you will find rickshaw-pullers, labourers, beggars, vendors and destitute, all huddled in groups around small bonfires, some sponsored by the civic authorities, but mostly prepared by their own effort.

They can be found under flyovers, in the slums behind five star hotels, under construction buildings, pavements, temples and on roadside in almost entire city. The LMC bonfire arrangements have been made in places with `influence’ — outside newspaper offices, Darul Shafa and other legislators’ hostels, VIP colonies, some temples, Hazratganj, Chowk, Charbagh among other places. But many places in Old City do not have such arrangements. Neither can one see bonfires in adequate numbers in Aminabad and Alambagh, nor in Mahanagar, Indiranagar, Hussainganj, Sitapur Road, BKT and Rae Bareli Road.

Rakesh and his four member family live in the slum on Gomti banks, use dry wood, polythene, tyres and rags to light a bonfire. Sonu (10), a helper in a tea stall on Rana Pratap Marg, has wrapped polythene bags on his feet to avoid a cold bite. He uses banners and jute bags as blanket in the night. Sriram Rawat, in Rudahi, BKT, went to his relatives after his house collapsed in monsoon. He came back in November to rebuild the house only to find that the land has been occupied by local muscle men. Now, he and his two brothers spend the night in a cow shed with their families with total 17 members.

It was only the first day of cold wave in the city. Nobody knows what will happen to such people, if it lasts long.

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