Reforming the Press Council



The new Chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, wants to make it an instrument of mediation in addition to adjudication

The appointment of Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court, as Chairman of the Press Council of India is about the best thing that has happened to that body in a long while. It is no exaggeration to say that the PCI commands little prestige today and less relevance. It is not representative of the press at all. What Justice Katju has done, in a few days after his appointment, is to infuse life into it and involve the press in its work. This is a good step towards making the media feel that it is their institution.

It is a liberal approach, which he expounded in a get-together with mediapersons at his residence on October 10. “There are two ways to remove these defects in the media. One is the democratic way, that is, through discussions, consultations and persuasion – which is the method I prefer. The other way is by using harsh measures against the media, for example, by imposing heavy fines on defaulters, stopping government advertisements to them, suspending their licences, and so on.

“In a democracy we should first try the first method to rectify the defects through the democratic method. For this purpose, I have decided to have regular get-togethers with the media, including the electronic media, so that we can all introspect and ourselves find out ways and means to rectify the defect in the media, rather than this being done by some government authority or external agency. I propose to have such get-togethers once every two or three months, at which we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to think of how we can improve the performance of the media so that it may win the respect and confidence of the people.

“If the media prove incorrigible, harsh measures may be required. But in my opinion, that should be done only as a last resort and in extreme situations. Ordinarily, we should first try to resolve issues through discussion, consultation and self-regulation. That is the approach which should be first tried in a democracy. I, therefore, request the Union government to defer the implementation of its recent decision regarding news channel licences, so that we can ourselves discuss the issue thoroughly, and ourselves take corrective measures. “Till now the function of the Press Council was only adjudication. I intend to make the Press Council an instrument of mediation in addition, which is in my opinion the democratic approach” ( The Hindu, October 22, 2011).But the archaic Press Council Act, 1978, is most unsuited to serve as a platform for such an imaginative enterprise. It was atrophied at its very birth by imposing (Section 5 (3)) a strange composition of the Press Council, which ensures its own irrelevance and cynicism by the press.

Justice Katju rightly holds that the electronic media should also be brought within the remit of the Press Council. Indeed, failure to do so would violate the constitutional guarantee of equality (Article 14). Equals must be treated alike. Cinematograph films are different in that, unlike the print and electronic media, they are subject to pre-censorship. A ramshackle system of supposedly quasi-judicial institutions is set up by the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Meanwhile, the electronic media roams at large like a rogue elephant.

However, if television is to be brought within the purview of the Act of 1978, as it must be, the statute will have to undergo a drastic overhaul beginning with its title. The composition of the PCI must be changed fundamentally. This would provide an excellent opportunity for reform, in which Justice Katju’s PCI can perform the role he promises as an instrument of mediation. But 2011 is not 1978. The media are more assertive. No reform will be acceptable or will work unless it is based on the largest measure of consensus in the print as well as the electronic media.

To begin with, the PCI’s composition must change. Names need not be mentioned, but it is well known that over the years it has had members whose presence on the Council was nothing short of scandalous. Members of the print and electronic media should put their heads together to ensure that the PCI truly represents the media.

Justice Katju might propose a radical change. The PCI should no longer be headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court but by a person elected by the media itself. Appointment of a judge by the government adds an “outside” element to what is a “Court of Honour” comprising the media, mandated to discipline its own erring members. The task will be more effectively performed if the PCI represents both the wings of the media, print and electronic, and is headed by one of their own.

Bar a few honourable exceptions, the former Supreme Court judges who served as Chairmen did poor service to the PCI and brought little credit to themselves. What is it that inspired a former judge of the Supreme Court presiding over the Press Council, Justice N. Rajagopala Iyengar, to write to V.C. Shukla, easily the most despicable Minister for Information and Broadcasting we have ever had, on August 13, 1975, during the Emergency, confidentially in this conspiratorial vein: “You remember I spoke to you about the desire of some members to have a meeting convened for the purpose of discussing the Emergency and the Censorship. I had an informal meeting of the Delhi-based members and I was able to convince them that this is not necessary or desirable. So this will not figure in [sic] the agenda of my meeting that is being called” ( White Paper on Misuse of Mass Media during the Internal Emergency; Government of India; August 1977; page 40). The context brings out the betrayal by the PCI Chairman. Kuldip Nayar had proposed a resolution condemning restrictions on the press. The judge, a custodian of press freedom as the PCI’s head, not only sabotaged the move but wrote to the Minister about his brilliant piece of work to earn brownie points.

Justice R.S. Sarkaria was another favourite. He was appointed on a Commission of Inquiry in 1976 against the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi; as head of the Commission on Centre-State Relations in 1983, along with two former bureaucrats, to deliver the desired report; and later as Chairman of the PCI, in recognition of his high services to the state. In 1990, participants at a seminar were shocked to hear him argue that it took the United States 200 years to acquire a law on the freedom of information. Fortunately, we did not wait for those 200 years. But his worst abdication of duty lay in entertaining an oral complaint by the Army on press reportage on Kashmir. It included reports of alleged rapes of 31 women by army personnel during the night of February 23-24, 1991. A probe into the veracity of such a report is one for a Commission of Inquiry to undertake; surely not for the Press Council of India. Besides, Regulation 4 of the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations, 1979, binds the PCI to reject any complaint that is not in writing and does not contain the details required under Regulation 3. The upshot was a report by B.G. Verghese, which lies discredited today.

The State Human Rights Commission of Kashmir announced on October 19, 2011, that it would probe afresh the Kunan Poshpora rapes. The press reported more than once intercession by the village elders to get the victims married. So much for Verghese’s denial of the charges (vide the writer’s “Exceeding the Brief”, Frontline, October 12, 1991). The Secretary of the PCI was instructed to invoke, in the teeth of Regulations 3 and 4, Regulation 15, which enables inquiries “to regulate their own procedure in respect of any matter for which no provisions or inadequate provision is made”, Regulation 4 notwithstanding. Verghese’s report was widely distributed by the Government of India. All this under Sarkaria’s watch.

Abdication of duty

Justice P.B. Sawant had his own demons to slaughter. The nadir was reached in the case of the brave human rights activist Ravi Nair, whose patriotism was impugned by a newspaper. “The committee (of inquiry) considered the records carefully. It noted that the impugned report was based on the information given to the newspaper by the governmental agencies, the names of which the respondent-newspaper had disclosed in his written statement. The committee further noted that the newspaper had offered to publish the retraction if the complainant could get a declaration from the governmental agencies. It further noted the apparent contradiction between the statements made by the complainant in his complaint and the letter written by him to the editor in regard to the correspondent’s effort to verify the facts from the complainant. In the circumstances, the committee felt that the impugned report was based on the information received by the respondent-newspaper from authentic sources and, therefore, there was no substance in the complaint. The committee decided to recommend to the Council, to dismiss the complaint.” The PCI accepted this. Its Chairman was Justice (retd) P.B. Sawant.

This was a gross abdication of duty. The PCI is enjoined to probe for itself and require the paper to justify its smear. The effect is obvious. If the agencies plant a story – as they do every now and then – the complainant will need an exoneration “from the governmental agencies” themselves. A person who has such an outlook is unfit to be Chairman of the PCI.

Justice Katju’s immediate predecessor did not cover himself with glory either. He was privy to the suppression of the 71-page report on paid news prepared by dedicated and able senior journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy. Through a vote on July 30, 2010, the PCI shamefully refused to reveal the findings and, instead, submitted a 13-page report to the government. The full report is now public and should be published in full in the PCI’s Journal. Not Everyone has access to the Internet. Yet Chairman after Chairman has demanded punitive powers – P.B. Sawant, K. Jayachandra Reddy and G.N. Ray. It is such men who reduced the PCI to pathetic irrelevance.

Chairmen there have been, like Justice A.N. Sen, who manfully stood up for press freedom. The Thakkar-Natarajan Commission on Fairfax, comprising sitting judges of the Supreme Court, was out to pillory V.P. Singh. They responded to press criticism of their conduct by asking for powers of contempt for commissions of inquiry. The Government of India asked the PCI’s Chairman, Justice A.N. Sen, to prescribe a code of conduct. Since we hear a lot about a code of conduct for journalists, the text of the PCI’s decision deserves to be set out in full:

“The Council considered the letter of Shri. G.K. Arora, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi, dated 31-5-1988 addressed to the Chairman, Press Council of India, and also the observations made in Chapter VI of the Report of Justices Thakkar-Natarajan Commission. Out of deference to the members of the Commission, who happen to be sitting Judges of the Supreme Court, the Council refrains from making any comments on the observations made and views expressed therein.

“The Second Press Commission had recommended that it would not be proper to lay down any code of conduct for the press. The Council has consistently taken the stand that it is not desirable to formulate a code of conduct for the press as the Council is of the opinion that any such formulation can only be in broad and general terms and such formulation will serve no useful purpose and may have the effect of impinging on the freedom of the press. Guidelines are indeed indicated in Article 19(2) of the Constitution itself. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation and an eminent journalist himself, suggested that imposition of any restrictions should come from within the press and not from without. Section 13(2)(b) of the Press Council Act, 1978, lays down that the Council should build up a code of conduct, and this the Council is doing through the various decisions rendered by it. The British Press Council also observes the same practice. The Council decided to reiterate its stand and expressed the opinion that there was no reason to depart from the same.” But, of course, a code of conduct can help; provided it is drawn up by both wings of the media and their code is annexed, as a schedule, to the new PCI Act, for the reformed PCI to enforce.

The British Press Complaints Commission has come under a cloud after the News of the World scandal. But the precedent is a useful one; not for imitiation but for adaptation. The PCC is charged with enforcing a “Code of Practice” drawn up by the press itself (see box). It is not a statutory body but an exercise in self-regulation which grew out of public outrage over repeated violations of privacy. There were the reports of the Committee on Privacy headed by Kenneth Younger (1972); of the Committee on Privacy and Related Matters headed by David Calcutt, Q.C. (1990); and by Calcutt himself (1993) entitled “Review of Press Self-Regulation” (Vide the writer’s article “Privacy and public wrongs”, Frontline, October 17, 1997). The PCI and the Indian Law Institute published two useful compilations of rulings. One was on Violation of Freedom of Press (1986) and the other on Violation of Journalistic Ethics and Public taste (1984).

Justice Katju will doubtless hasten slowly. Leading figures in the media, print and electronic, owe a clear duty to help him in this task, besides exploring other areas superficially dealt with in the past. One neglected area is media coverage of terrorist outrage. In the wake of 26/11, some TV reportage imperilled lives and security by reckless behaviour. The BBC has extensive internal guidelines for reporting on hijacking, kidnapping, hostage taking and sieges. They are available on

Justice Katju lost little time in dissipating the credit he had initially acquired. The penchant for sweeping remarks for which he was known in the “outbursts” on the Supreme Court Bench asserted itself soon after he became Chairman of the PCI.

He deservedly received reprimands from the Editor’s Guild and the Broadcast Editors Association on November 1 and 2. All of which only fortifies the case for revamping the PCI by eliminating Supreme Court judges from the chairmanship and including the electronic media within the ambit of a reconstituted Media Council as suggested in this article. Katju ought to know that judges of the Supreme Court exhibit appalling ignorance of literature when they demand that avowed works of historical fiction should be historically accurate. You cannot denounce and persuade at the same time. It is not for him to speak as he did anymore than it is open to a Chief Justice to denounce the Bar or the Army chief to denounce the jawans. His plea for teeth should be rejected. His comments lack restraint even when what he says is true.

But not all his comments on the media should be brushed aside. Some are fair. For instance, TV anchors assiduously whip up chauvinism in their contest for Television Rating Points – their current target is China. Four leading anchors behave like licensed louts every evening. They promote sensationalism and revel in aggressive demeanour. Print media journalists have to undergo a long grind before they reach editorial positions. Only a TV anchor will loftily proclaim while in Ladakh, “the McMahon Line is behind me”. He did not know that the line is our boundary in the north-east. It does not extend westward. In Ladakh the Sino-Indian boundary was never defined. Only a Line of Actual Control exists. Another TV channel has broken all norms of professional integrity by reducing itself to a platform for Omar Abdullah whenever he has been in trouble ever since he was pitchforked into the office of the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir nearly three years ago. To everyone’s surprise, he on his part grants it and its correspondent preferential treatment.

Still and all, Justice Katju should be given a fair chance for he has some good ideas and intends to infuse life into the PCI.




Licence to live


In a landmark judgment, the Delhi High Court lifts the freeze on the number of cycle rickshaws allowed to ply on Delhi roads.

It is pointed out that a poor man in India lives with a rich assortment of rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Observers explain that this paradox exists because the fundamental rights of the poor citizen have been growing in recent years, through an activist interpretation of the Constitution, without making any significant impact on his or her life. This has, according to legal scholars, led to a regime of substantial rights and limited access to justice.

It is in this context that the recent Delhi High Court judgment in Manushi Sangthan, Delhi v. Government of Delhi and Others is seen as holding out a promise of how the courts can come to the help of the poor and the needy not only through a creative interpretation of the law but by ensuring that there is substantial compliance with their directions to the authorities. The judgment was delivered on February 10 by Justice Ravindra Bhat on behalf of the full court comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah, Justice S. Muralidhar and himself.

Cycle rickshaws were introduced in Delhi in 1940 as an improvement over hand-pulled rickshaws. The number of cycle rickshaws plying on the roads of Delhi was 20,000 in 1975. The number grew to between six and seven lakhs in 2006. Cycle rickshaws are an instant source of employment for about seven to eight lakh people and involve low capital investment, typically ranging from Rs.1,200 to Rs.4,500. It is mainly the least skilled and people with the least employment opportunity, that is, seasonal migrant workers, who choose this livelihood.

The cap fixed initially by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on the number of licences that could be issued under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Cycle Rickshaw Bye-laws, 1960, was 750. This was increased to 20,000 in 1975 on the basis of the report of a survey. The MCD again revised the ceiling to 50,000 in 1993 on the basis of another review, even though the number of cycle rickshaws plying on the roads was 4.5 lakhs. The last revision took place in 1997, when the total number of licences that could be issued was capped at 99,000. Curiously, according to the MCD’s admission, the number of cycle rickshaws currently plying on the roads of Delhi is in excess of six lakhs.

Manushi, a welfare organisation espousing the causes of various classes of weaker sections, contended before the High Court that singling out cycle rickshaws for such a cap on licences amounted to hostile discrimination. It pointed out that there were no such quantitative restrictions on the number of licences that could be issued to motor vehicle owners. This implied that the state wished to push out other means of transport, which were cheaper, more efficacious, consumer friendly and most certainly environment friendly, Manushi submitted.

Startling figures

The figures it brought to the notice of the court were startling. More than five million motor vehicles ply on Delhi’s roads. These are owned by 15-20 per cent of the population. Eighty-five per cent of the general public depends on public transport. In other words, motorised vehicles are given undue prominence at the cost of pedestrians and owners of non-motorised vehicles, that is, those who use cycle rickshaws or bicycles.

The MCD had stuck to its ceiling on the number of cycle rickshaws on the basis of the Delhi High Court’s ruling in 2006 in the Hemraj case. The High Court accepted the petitioners’ argument that the order in the Hemraj case was issued without hearing all the affected parties, particularly cycle rickshaw pullers and owners, a blatant neglect of natural justice. The irrational cap fixed by the MCD provided a ready instrument for exploitation and harassment of rickshaw pullers.

The petitioners also brought to the court’s attention the 4th Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which emphasised the need for policies that encouraged the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrid vehicles, non-motorised transport (such as cycling and walking), and better land-use and transport planning, to minimise rise in pollution levels. A study carried out by the Ministry of Environment in 1997 had found that vehicular pollution accounts for 67 per cent of the total air pollution load in Delhi.

The court came to learn more shocking details of the MCD’s discriminatory policy. Most of the rickshaw pullers lack the resources to purchase a cycle rickshaw, but the bye-laws violated their right to rent rickshaws and carry on an occupation by holding cycle rickshaw licences.

An individual or a company may own any number of vehicles, which can be licensed or registered for use on the roads. Such choice is denied to the rickshaw puller, who cannot own and use more than one cycle rickshaw. The petitioner argued that it not only affected their livelihood but destroyed their right to equality and equal opportunity guaranteed under the Constitution.

Agreeing with these contentions, the High Court held the limit of 99,000 placed on the number of cycle rickshaw licences that could be issued as arbitrary and set it aside.

The Delhi Police justified its move to impound and dismantle unlicensed cycle rickshaws because they not only “add to the congestion on the roads and footpaths, but also occupy space as the rickshaw puller is too poor to own a residence or dwelling. He lives on the pavement, rests in the rickshaw, eats and washes on the pavements which not only causes strain on the civic resources of the city but also encourages them in developing unauthorised colonies/jhuggies giving rise to social problems in the city.” These comments invited expressions of instant surprise from the court over the Delhi Police’s lack of sensitivity.

The court said: “It would be important for public authorities, particularly law enforcement agencies, to display sensitivity when exercising the coercive powers under various statutes to the vulnerable situation in which the underprivileged populations, of which the rickshaw pullers form an integral part, are placed.”

The High Court held that the MCD or the Delhi Police had no power to seize or destroy a rickshaw even if it was found to be driven without a licence or by a person not having a proper licence.

The High Court’s interpretation of dignity of labour is of considerable significance. In the Hemraj case, the High Court felt that the plying of a cycle rickshaw offended human dignity and therefore assumed that the state would eventually eliminate the trade altogether. In the Manushi case, the High Court, however, reversed the ruling, which was based on a mere assumption and went against the freedom to practise any profession (unless it is inherently noxious), guaranteed under Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution.

Creative interpretation

The High Court’s creative interpretation of the law also helped it to navigate through a Supreme Court judgment that favoured the MCD’s discriminatory policy. The MCD argued that the correctness of its policy requiring that only owners could ply cycle rickshaws could not be challenged since the Supreme Court had upheld it in the All Delhi Cycle Rickshaw Operators Union case in 1987. The High Court cited the established principle of constitutional law that a piece of legislation or regulation, though once held valid, can be successfully challenged if there is a significant change in circumstances. The High Court thus held that the owner-plier policy, even though it was valid 22 years ago, could not be regarded as non-discriminatory and valid now.

The MCD’s policy also required licensed cycle rickshaws to ply only in certain zones and did not provide any parking space or separate cycle lanes for rickshaws. The High Court felt it was a fit case for the authorities to explore all options to reduce road congestion and consider all proposals from an overall or holistic perspective.

By issuing continuing mandamus, an innovation started by the Supreme Court while disposing of several petitions raising public interest, the High Court resolved to monitor the implementation of its directions in this case. The MCD has decided to appeal against this judgment in the Supreme Court.

Where is the law to protect our children from sexual abuse?

Ananthapriya Subramanian IN THE HINDU

We urgently need legislation that specifically addresses child abuse.

The Indian Penal Code does not spell out the definition of child abuse as a specific offence

Even the Juvenile Justice Act does not specifically address the issue of child sexual abuse

The government’s decision to introduce a set of guidelines for service providers in the tourism sector in a move to prevent a repeat of incidents like the rape of a Russian girl in Goa recently is indeed a welcome step. The code of conduct envisages, among other things, training tour operators and hotel staff on identifying and reporting potential cases of sexual exploitation of children.

These guidelines will help service providers in the tourism industry to contribute their mite in building a protective environment for children by establishing an ethical policy against commercial sexual exploitation of children. The code of conduct should be displayed in all tourist places of interest, hotels, resorts, etc.

The guidelines, which will go some way in addressing some of the horrifying aspects of child abuse, come as a response to the spate of recent news reports of tourists accused of paedophilia and pornography. While applauding the government’s response, one cannot help but make the point that much more remains to be done in light of the chilling fact that India has the highest number of sexually abused children in the world. A study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF and Save the Children in 2007 brought out some shocking facts about the extent of child abuse in India. Over 53 per cent of children reported having faced some form of sexual abuse. In fact, the study found that two out of every three children were physically abused. But the most shocking revelation is this: Most of the time, the abuse was perpetrated by someone known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Not surprisingly, most children did not report the abuse to anyone.

No special law

Nineteen per cent of the world’s children live in India. Over 440 million people in the country are aged 18 years and below and constitute 42 per cent of the total population. Signing up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, India promised to protect its children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Article 34 (a) enjoins State parties to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity. Yet, despite having the dubious distinction of having the highest number of sexually abused children in the world, there is no special law in India dealing with child abuse and child sexual abuse.

The Indian Penal Code does not spell out the definition of child abuse as a specific offence; neither does it offer legal remedy and punishment for “child abuse.” The IPC broadly lays out punishment for offences related to rape or sodomy or “unnatural sex.” The IPC laws are rarely interpreted to cover the range of child sexual abuse; the law relating to terms “sodomy” or “rape” are too specific and do not apply to acts like fondling, kissing, filming children for pornographic purposes, etc.

Even the law mandated with the welfare of children, the Juvenile Justice Act, does not specifically address the issue of child sexual abuse. It is difficult to apply the provisions of existing laws to any case of child abuse as it is easy for a defence lawyer to make use of the legal loopholes to facilitate their client’s escape from punishment. Even if someone does get convicted under the IPC for rape, the maximum imprisonment is a mere two years.

We urgently need legislation that specifically addresses child abuse. The legislation must address all forms of sexual abuse including child prostitution and child pornography. But it should also deal with physical abuse, including corporal punishment and bullying and, trafficking of children. There is urgent need as well to have a functioning administrative system to record and register child abuse cases. Given the fact that the majority of children do not report sexual abuse to anyone, any law must look at mechanisms of reporting and persons responsible for reporting. Children need to be able to go to someone who they know will listen to them, protect them and take action on their behalf.

Merely enacting legislation will not be enough unless this is followed by strict enforcement of the law with accountability defined. Also, parents, teachers and others in the community have a vital role to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Children are the country’s greatest human resource and a measure of the country’s social progress lies in the wellbeing of its children: that they are healthy, educated, safe, happy and have access to life opportunities.

( Ananthapriya Subramanian is Media and Communications Manager with Save the Children.)


The Supreme Court Friday asked all states and union territories to “forthwith” set up three types of statutory bodies in all districts, as mandated by a 2000 central law for the welfare of juveniles and children in the country. Two days after ordering Delhi government to establish night shelters for thousand of the capital’s homeless, a bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice A.K. Patnaik directed all states to set up statutory bodies under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, within six weeks.


“It has become imperative to direct all the states to implement the provisions of the law forthwith and establish Juvenile Justice Board, Child Welfare Committee and special juvenile policing units within 6 weeks from today,” the bench ordered.On a suggestion by Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, the bench also deputed the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights as the nodal agency to supervise the implementation of the apex court order.The three statutory bodies that the bench ordered state governments to set up in all districts as per the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act are: Juvenile Justice Board – a court to try juvenile delinquents, Child Welfare Committees (CWC), and the special police units to handle the cases related to juveniles.The bench gave the order while hearing a 2006 lawsuit by a civil society organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), which sought implementation of the various provisions of theJuvenile Justice Act, 2000.The bench gave the order as senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the BBA, told the court that various key provisions of the law remain unimplemented till date despite lapse of nearly a decade after the central legislation was enacted.During the hearing, the bench singled out poverty as the reason why the children keep returning to workplaces, including the hazardous ones, despite ban on child labour.Citing the example of Brazil, Chile and various Latin American countries, the bench observed that child labour was not unique to India and wanted the government to learn from Brazilian experience, where the government would give some financial incentives to the poor parents of the children withdrawn from workplaces and sent to schools.


We at Shakti Vahini and as Activist working on Child Rights term this order as an important Land Mark in the cause for proper laws on Child Protection.


New Delhi — As the Indian capital continues to reel under its worst winter in many years, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the National Territory of Delhi government to provide night shelters by Wednesday evening local time to an estimated 150,000 homeless in New Delhi.

The apex court taking note of the plight of the homeless during the extreme old conditions in the Indian capital in its order issued Wednesday said: “The authorities must also ensure that the night shelters have basic amenities such as blankets, electricity and toilets, the apex court ruled.Justices Dalveer Bhandari and K.S. Radhakrishnan told the government representative to immediately advertise the locations of all the night shelters in the capital through television and print media.


The apex court passed the directions on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), complaining that the Delhi administration had failed to provide adequate shelter and food to the homeless and destitute.The court’s ruling applies only to the Indian capital, though it is the poor and homeless across India who are most affected by the intensity of the cold. Each winter, several deaths are reported.In general, central heating in India is unknown.

It is a common sight to see poor people, warming themselves over bonfires, made from scrap paper and broken branches of trees.The poor and the homeless are usually huddled by the authorities into night shelters, which are far from adequate both in numbers and facilities.

The apex court’s order sent top officials in a tizzy. In the past fortnight they drew flak from courts for callously demolishing a couple of temporary night shelters in the name of beautification ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in the Indian capital in October.There are currently 54 night shelters in Delhi. Their combined capacity cannot house even a small fraction of the capital’s estimated 150,000 homeless people.