ACORN in Delhi Offers Alternatives to the “Sleep Mafia”

Check out the Chief Organizer Blog that features the work of ACORN in India for the homeless.

In addition to running our own shelters again, ACORN India also runs a rescue vehicle in Delhi. It moves in the streets from 10 pm to 4 am and rescues homeless sleeping in open by bringing them to the nearest shelter.

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Link to Article Featured in New York Times on Homeless in India

Desperate for Slumber in Delhi, Homeless Encounter a ‘Sleep Mafia’

By ELLEN BARRYJAN. 18, 2016

DELHI, India — When midnight approaches in Old Delhi and a thick, freezing fog settles over the city, the quilt-wallah Farukh Khan sits on his corner, watching the market for his services come to life.

They shuffle up one by one, men desperate for sleep. The bicycle rickshaw pullers, peeling one of his 20-rupee, or 30-cent, quilts off a pile, fold their bodies into strange angles on the four-foot seats of their vehicles. The day laborers curl their bodies on the frigid sidewalk, sometimes spooned against other men for warmth.

Those who cannot afford to pay Mr. Khan build fires, out of plastic if necessary, and crouch over them, waiting for the night to be over.

Does any city have a more stratified sleep economy than wintertime Delhi? The filmmaker Shaunak Sen, who spent two years researching the city’s sleep vendors for a documentary, “Cities of Sleep,” discovered a sprawling gray market that has taken shape around the city’s vast unmet need for shelter. In some places, it breeds what he calls a “sleep mafia, who controls who sleeps where, for how long, and what quality of sleep.”

The story of privatized sleep follows a familiar pattern in this city: After decades of uncontrolled growth, the city government’s inability to provide services like health care, water, transportation and security has given rise to thriving private industries, efficient enough to fulfill the needs of those who can pay.

But shelter, given Delhi’s extremes of heat and cold, is often a matter of survival. The police report collecting more than 3,000 unidentifiable bodies from the streets every year, typically men whose health broke down after years living outdoors. Winter presents especially brutal choices to homeless laborers, who have no place to protect blankets from thieves in the daytime hours. Some try to hide them in the tops of trees.

The moral quandary of making this into a business is at the center of Mr. Sen’s film, which had its premiere at a Mumbai film festival in November. One of his subjects, Ranjit, takes a protective attitude toward his regular “sleepers,” as he calls them, allowing them to drift off to sleep watching Bollywood films for 10 rupees a night. Another, a hard-nosed businessman called Jamaal, increases his price to 50 rupees, from 30, when the temperature drops.

In one scene, when a man pleads, “Sir, I am a poor man; I’ll die,” Jamaal chuckles and replies: “You’re not allowed to die. Even that will cost 1,250 rupees.”

“Look, sleep is the most demanding master there is; no one can stop it when it has chosen to arrive,” Jamaal says in the film. “We were the first to recognize the sheer economic might of sleep.”

Like many of this city’s businesses, sleep vendors are both highly organized and officially nonexistent. In Mr. Khan’s neighborhood, four quilt vendors have divided the sidewalks and public spaces into quadrants, and when night falls, their customers arrange themselves into colonies of lumpy forms. Some have returned to the same spot every night for years.

A drunken man, his hair matted, stumbled up to Mr. Khan and begged. “Brother, please,” he pleaded, and Mr. Khan uttered a curse under his breath, then grabbed a quilt and thrust it at him.

“If I don’t give him the blanket, he will freeze to death,” he said.

Earlier in the week, this had happened, just a block away from Mr. Khan’s spot. The morning street sweeper had tried to rouse a sleeping man from the sidewalk, but he pulled back the blanket and saw that the man’s feet were stiff.

The man, who was around 35, had been stumbling around drunkenly the night before. No one knew who he was; a police officer asked some other men to go through his pockets, in hopes of finding identification, but they were empty. He covered the body with a sheet, and it lay on the sidewalk until the mortuary workers came, at sunset.

A cluster of “pavement dweller” deaths prompted India’s Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that the country’s large cities must provide shelter for 0.1 percent of the population. This winter, Delhi expanded its shelter system to accommodate more than 18,000, but the number of homeless is vast — likely more than 100,000, said Ashwin Parulkar, who researches homelessness at the Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.

The sleep vendors, Mr. Parulkar said, thrive where the government has failed.

“They are exploiting them,” he said. “There is a slew of public policies for these people that are supposed to bypass this kind of exploitation.”

Mr. Khan, who has been here for eight years, says he extends credit for regular customers to a limit of 100, or occasionally 200, rupees. (Several shivering men, who had spent the night around a smoldering fire nearby, snorted in disbelief upon hearing this.) He considers boundaries between vendors so sacred that he will not step across them. He makes regular payments to the police and street sweepers so they do not disturb his sleepers, and he maintains close relations with the local pickpockets so that he can tell them whom not to rob.

“It’s hard,” he said, “but what would happen if I was not here? More people would die.”

He added, “I have the feeling that I am doing charity.”

Among his clients are the inebriated and the insanely hopeful. Mohammad Sajid, one leg misshapen by polio, was sharing a quilt with a friend, also polio-stricken, whom he had met washing dishes at a food stall. The two men had lost their jobs two weeks earlier, and every day their store of money dwindled: 2 rupees to use public toilets, 5 rupees to bathe, 5 rupees for a half-cup of tea, 10 rupees for half a quilt.

His friend was thinking of returning to his village, at least until the cold passed, but Mr. Sajid shook his head.

“I will go back,” he said. “But first I want to make something of myself.”

Mr. Khan knows better. Come back in five years, he said, and half of these guys will still be here.

“Everybody here is a sad story,” he said. “Why would a happy story come to sleep here?” He poured himself a plastic cup of whiskey. “They will get up in the morning, use the toilet, and they will be ready for work. The system never finishes.”

***

Janpahal, a Delhi based affiliate of ACORN International in association with Govt of Delhi is running and managing five shelters for homeless namely at Shakarpur, Ganesh Nagar, Yamuna Khadar, Akshardham and Geeta Colony. The shelters are free with many facilities including clean mattress, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, drinking water, electricity, toilets, bathroom, first aid box, lockers, daily newspaper, morning tea, breakfast, counseling and sanitary napkins. Free tuition are provided to school going homeless children. Facilities for entertainment and sports are also available. Along with daily morning tea and healthy breakfast, fresh and hot food for dinner are also being served on Sundays. We run various awareness programmes and programs to link homeless with government services and skill development programs. Special awareness drive was conducted on drug-addiction, HIV/AIDS, TB etc. Homeless residents of these shelters collectively celebrate festivals and has created a creative corner in all shelters. Recently, a film festival was organized from Christmas to New Year.

Poster of film festival Local Legislator playing santa and distributing gifts to homeless kids on christmas Homeless Kids with their Christmas gifts Homeless kids enjoying movie Fresh and hot food being served to homeless Feeding Homeless Kids Feeding Homeless Kid Creative corner by Homeless

 

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Central Vigilance Commission probes bribery charges involving Wal-Mart

NEW DELHI: The US-based world’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart has come under the scanner of anti- corruption watchdog Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) which has summoned its India’s head amid allegations that the company gave bribes to government officials to get customs clearances and obtain permits to set up stores in India.

“Some observations have been made that Wal-Mart gave some amount to government officials here. It is our duty to look into it,” Vigilance Commissioner T M Bhasin  ..

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Wal-Mart paid millions of dollars as bribes in India: Report

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/international-business/Wal-Mart-paid-millions-of-dollars-as-bribes-in-India-Report/articleshow/49447657.cms

WASHINGTON: America’s multinational retail corporation Wal-Mart is suspected to have paid bribes worth millions of dollars in India, according to a media report.

In a major report, The Wall Street Journal said Walmart’s “suspected bribery” unearthed in India involves thousands of small payments to low-level local officials to help move goods through customs or obtain real-estate permits.

“The vast majority of the suspicious payments were less than $200, and some were as low as $5, the people said, but when added together they totaled millions of dollars,” the daily said.

In 2013, Wal-Mart shelved plans to open retail stores in India by severing a joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Ltd and instead decided to become solely a wholesaler there, the report said.

Wal-Mart, who was pushing the previous UPA regime for opening of the multi-brand retail sector was also involved in lobbying before the US Congress in this regard, Congressional disclosure reports have said in the past few years.

According to the report, Wal-Mart’s massive bribery efforts is unlikely to bring in any penalty on it as its Indian operation does not yield any profit under the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of the United States.

“Because penalties under the FCPA are often connected to the amount of profit the alleged misconduct generated, the payments in India wouldn’t be likely to result in any sizable penalty, since Wal-Mart’s operations there haven’t been particularly profitable, said people familiar with the matter,” the daily reported.

There was no immediate response from Walmart’s corporate headquarters here on the Wall Street Journal’s report on its bribery in India.

According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators “found evidence of bribery in India, centering on widespread but relatively small payments made to local officials there,” during the course of its “high-profile federal probe” into allegations of widespread corruption at WalmartStores Inc’s operations in Mexico.

The investigations though have found little in the way of major offenses in Mexico, and is likely to result in a much smaller case than investigators first expected, the daily said.

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Millions of Indian workers strike against ‘anti-labor policies’

Link to full article

One-day strike against prime minister’s pro-business initiatives reportedly cause billions of dollars in economic losses

 

Millions of Indian workers launched a 24-hour strike on Wednesday against what they said were Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “anti-labor policies,” prompting billions of dollars in economic losses.

Ten major unions called the nationwide strike over the government’s pro-business initiatives after recent talks with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley broke down.

The unions — which represent a wide range of industries, from banking to coal mining — are demanding the government dump plans to sell off stakes in state-run companies to boost the public purse and to shutter unproductive factories.

“We are against these anti-labor policies. The government is going to change the laws to benefit the corporates,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, secretary of the Indian Trade Union Congress, which has 3.6 million members.

“The changes they want to bring are against the working classes. I am very confident of a hugely successful strike,” he told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

Later on Wednesday, Dasgupta told The Times of India that the response to the strike was “magnificent” and estimated that more than 150 million workers participated, though the figure could not be independently confirmed.

Workers in the banking, manufacturing, construction and coal mining sectors were among those who walked off the job, according to union leaders.

Modi won a landslide election victory last May, promising a string of business-friendly reforms to attract foreign investment and revive Asia’s third largest economy.

But the opposition has blocked flagship tax and land reforms, aggravating investor concerns, while the unions are increasingly angry over the reforms.

“The Modi government has turned a blind eye towards the problems being faced by the labor class,” Dharmendra Kumar, president of The Hawkers’ Federation, said at a news conference.

“The government must rethink its labor policies. Modi has made a mockery of us by telling the world to come and manufacture in India because it has the cheapest labor.”

The Hawkers’ Federation is demanding that a monthly minimum wage hike from $72 to $226 be extended to the informal sector.

India’s economy grew by a slower-than-expected 7 percent in the first quarter of the financial year and experts warn reforms are needed to at least keep that pace to create jobs for millions of young people.

Previous strikes have shut down cities and cost the Indian economy millions of dollars in lost production.

Industry body Assocham estimated $3.7 billion in economic losses from Wednesday’s strike, singling out the country’s ports where exports were stranded on the docks, reported The Times of India.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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Open to amendments in future once GST Bill is passed: Rajnath Singh

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/open-to-amendments-in-future-once-gst-bill-is-passed-rajnath-singh/articleshow/48413246.cms

NEW DELHI: With Congress and Left opposing the GST Bill, Home Minister Rajnath Singh today appealed to all parties to lend support to the proposed legislation for its passage in Parliament, saying the government will be open to amendments in future.

“I appeal to all parties to support us in Parliament so that we can pass it. We are open to amendments of GST Bill in future as per suggestions of traders,” he said addressing a conference of traders here.

Singh said the government was trying its best to pass the GST Bill in Parliament but due to the continuous disruption of the House by the opposition, the effort has not been successful.

The GST Bill was passed by Lok Sabha but the Rajya Sabha is yet to pass it due to opposition of Congress, Left parties and AIADMK. These parties want changes in the Bill.

Terming retail traders as the backbone of country’s economy, Singh said the government would not allow their interests to be affected by globalisation.

The Home Minister said the central government understands the difficulty faced by the retail traders and would do its best to resolve them as no one can undermine their importance.

“We were, are and will always be business friendly. You had demanded that there should be no FDI in multi-brand retail and we ensured that it does not happen,” he said.

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Street Vendors Board Demanded

Dharmendra Kumar led a delegation of street vendors leaders to the Hon’ble Minister of Labour & Employment, Govt. of NCT of Delhi demanding creation of a Street Vendors Board, Provision of social security to all existing street vendors and registration of street vendors associations as trade unions.

Meeting Hon'ble Labour Minister, Delhi

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Street Vendors meet the Chief Minister of Delhi

30 May, 2015:  A delegation of street vendors leaders led by Dharmendra Kumar met Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister (C.M.) of NCT. of Delhi.
A range of issues were discussed during the meeting. Hon’ble CM was requested to revisit the Street Vendors (protection of Livelihood and Regulation of vending) rules, 2014 to make sure that the Town Vending Committee has representatives of street vendors democratically elected by all existing informal street vendors and not just by the already licensed ones.
The delegation welcomed the Delhi govt. notification issued on 19th Feb 2015 directing authorities not to disturb existing street vendors/hawkers. It was also requested to create framework to allow new vendors.
The delegation thanked Mr. Kejriwal for his govt. stand to not allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multibrand retail under territorial jurisdiction of Delhi. Last but not the least, the delegation presented a report to the Hon’ble CM based on a survey conducted among street vendors from across Delhi. The study finds that street vendors continue to be harassed by various authorities especially the municipality and police.  According to the findings of the study, street vendors of Delhi are annually paying around Indian National Rupees (INR) 844 crores (almost 140 million US$) to personnel of municipality and police.

Meeting Delhi CM 4 Meeting Delhi CM 2 Meeting Delhi CM 1

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