India plans to convert old railway coaches into shelters for homeless people

Indian officials plan to convert old railway coaches into shelters for the homeless before the start of colder weather, a move campaigners say does not address the issue of a crippling shortage of shelters and affordable housing in the country.

The government this month asked states to consider fitting old passenger coaches with electricity and sewerage connections and installing them in areas of cities where shelters are needed.

The southern state of Telangana is looking into acquiring up to 10 coaches for this purpose, according to a senior official in the urban development ministry.

“We have asked officials to look into the logistics of converting five to 10 coaches into shelters,” said L. Vandana Kumar, a director in the state department.

“The main issue to building shelters in the cities is the lack of land. We are looking into possible solutions; this is a temporary solution until then,” he said.

There are about 1 million urban homeless in India, according to official data, although charities estimate the actual number to be three times higher.

The urban homeless population rose by a fifth in the decade to 2011, as thousands migrated from villages in search of better prospects. Every year, hundreds die from exposure to the cold or heat on pavements and station platforms.

The Supreme Court in 2010 had ordered one homeless shelter for every 100,000 people in 62 cities, with facilities including drinking water, subsidized meals, beds, and lockers.

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