New Delhi: In the wake of multiple deaths due to intense cold, the national capital's homeless people have now emerged as the latest flashpoint between Arvind Kejriwal and Anil Baijal with the chief minister accusing the Lt Governor of putting a "useless officer" in charge of making arrangements for night shelters.
Kejriwal targeted Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) CEO Shurbir Singh after a section of the media, quoting an NGO working in this area, claimed that there have been as many as 44 homeless deaths in January so far.
Singh rejected the reports saying it would be wrong to link the deaths of the homeless to the cold, while claiming that he would appropriately respond to the government if he receives any show cause notice.
The L-G office did not respond to the allegation.
The Delhi BJP latched on to the reports and demanded that an all-party meeting be held to discuss the situation.
"Media reporting 44 deaths of homeless due to cold. Am issuing show cause notice to CEO, DUSIB. Negligible deaths last year. This year, LG appointed a useless officer. LG refuses to consult us before appointing officers. How do we run govt like this?" Kejriwal tweeted.
Interestingly, before the chief minister's tweet the Aam Aadmi Party sought to defend the DUSIB claiming that the number of deaths was consistent through the year and there has not been any abnormal spike in the recent days.
"Surprised at story being run by several channels on cold wave deaths. If the number of deaths of homeless/unidentified persons is consistent across all 12 months, how can they be attributed to the cold wave?" Atishi Marlena, the advisor to the education minister, tweeted.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari said, "So many people had to die, before you realised the gravity of the situation. BJP team continues to help the homeless and since the Aam Aadmi Party claims to be helpless, we demand an all-party meet on priority basis."
He claimed that the number of deaths due to cold in Delhi were confirmed by the Home Ministry.
"Till now we were getting figures through social organisations and newspapers about deaths due to cold, but now the Home Ministry has also confirmed that in the first six days of 2018, 44 deaths, including that of a small child, occurred," Tiwari said.
The DUSIB CEO has been in the AAP government's line of fire for some time now.
Earlier, a committee of the Delhi Assembly had recommended that adverse remarks be added in Singh's service record in connection with alleged irregularities in a local cooperative bank.
The then Delhi Chief Secretary M M Kutty had recommended the case for an ACB probe after an 'action taken report' (ATR) was submitted before the Delhi Assembly's Questions and Reference Committee.
"The L-G will never act against such officers," AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj, chairman of the committee, said.
Currently, DUSIB's 261 night shelters, run through NGOs on contract basis, have a capacity to house 20,934 people. Singh claimed the peak occupancy during nights this season has been 13,810.
Of the 261 shelters, 83 are concrete structures, 115 are porta cabins while the rest, save one, are tents. Every night, a subway near the AIIMS is thrown open for the families of outstation patients thronging the premier hospital to take shelter.
"DUSIB categorically rejects the report of deaths. One cannot associate deaths of the homeless with cold. No government department has shared any such data with us," Singh said.
He cautiously added that there are times when many homeless persons refuse to move to shelters.
"Our mandate is to try and persuade them to bring to shelters but we cannot force anyone. We communicate all such instances to the government," the DUSIB CEO said.
Sunil Kumar Aledia of the NGO Centre for Holistic Development, who tabulated the data based on number of unidentified bodies found in the city as recorded by the Zonal Integrated Police Network, ran two shelters last year.
"But this year I am not running any shelter due to corruption in DUSIB. I do not want to get into politics but it is a fact that harsh winters and summers are chief triggers behind the death of homeless people who are already diseased," Aledia said.
Over the last few months, sacked AAP Minister Kapil Mishra and BJP's Manoj Tiwari have been seen making rounds of homeless hotspots in trans-Yamuna area with Aledia and his volunteers.
In the weekly meeting of Delhi BJP, Tiwari asked the party workers to work for providing "permanent relief" to the homless with cooperation of social organisations.