From a Correspondent
JORHAT, Feb 23: Hundreds of homeless people who are forced to spend nights near bus stops, temples, mosques and footpath of any city or town are a common sight. Often these people, who do not even possess the minimum warm clothes required to help protect them from chilling nights or even mosquito nets or bedding during summer and the monsoon season, become victims of hit-and-run cases.
Allegations of certain NGOs floated with nefarious designs to pocket money in the me of helping the homeless are already doing rounds. Once such allegation is about a ‘Night Shelter Home’ meant for the homeless people under the Social Welfare Department of the Assam Government and implemented by Dikrong Valley Environment and Rural Development Society. It has been alleged that a fake list were created of people taking shelter in the home and in return fund released by the government was pocketed.
This shocking revelation has come to the light after an applicant (me withheld) filed an application with the Social Welfare Department, Jorhat under the Right to Information Act and accordingly in the reply, the department stated that the ‘Night Shelter Home’ is being looked after by an NGO Dikrong Valley and is situated near the Pulibor Police Station. Three persons mely Dibyajyoti Saikia (Program Coorditor), Simanta Das (Office Boy) and Lakhi Das (casual worker) look after the functioning of the NGO and provide night shelter to the homeless. A sum of Rs 4.50 lakh in the year 2011-12, Rs 4.80 lakh in 2012-13 and Rs 4.08 lakh in 2013-14, thus totaling Rs 13.38 lakh has so far been released by the department and also provided a list of hundreds of beneficiaries who took shelter in the home in the last three years.
However, these claims were thoroughly rejected by the RTI applicant who on condition of anonymity said, “RTI documents reveal that even jourlists have taken shelter in the home for two to three days. And we investigated the mes of the jourlist in their respective districts and to our utter dismay not one was found which invariably proves that the list is fake and is being maged by the Social Welfare Department in nexus with the NGOs. Whereas several beggars roam in Jorhat and can still be seen languishing in the streets but when asked they informed about not having any knowledge of such a night shelter home. Recently during a custodial death case under Jorhat Police station, the replacement of the murdered person was picked up from inside an ATM since the person did not have a house to stay. Moreover, I did not see any publicity, hoardings by the NGO in Jorhat to attract homeless people. So how will a person know about the shelter home situated several kilometers behind the Pulibor Police station and in a rural area far from the city?”
Program Coorditor Dibyajyoti Saikia informed The Sentinel, “The NGO was earlier housed behind the Hyundai Showroom at Pulibor and that too in a rented house. At that time the caretaker was one Raj and I have been given the charge since the last 5 months. The secretary of our NGO is Dipen Barua of rayanpur in Lakhimpur district. The responsibility for publicity of the shelter home to attract more and more homeless people for temporary stay purely lies with the Deputy Commissioner’s Office, police and the Social Welfare Department”. Asked if there was any screening process for determining the actual identity of the people, Dibyajyoti Saikia said, “No we do not have any such process and we can simply tell by the appearance whether the person is really homeless or not!”
Jorhat Social Welfare Officer Deepali Swargiari Baruah said, “The idea to open the night shelter home was taken up following a Supreme Court order after incidents of stone man and other cases of murder went up in the city. However, the present location of the Jorhat shelter home is deep inside a village at Pulibor Bamun Gaon. The NGO has been in existence for the last three years, previously in a rented house somehow close to the Jorhat Bypass. But the present location is not conducive for visitors. About anti-social elements taking shelter in the guise of homeless people, this has to be looked over by the police. In my last posting at Sibsagar, the police was well aware of the shelter home and used to call us even at midnight to accommodate people. But the police in Jorhat seem to be far away from the concept.”