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At least 160 die as city shivers

Delhi has coldest January day in years

At least 160 die as city shivers
An estimated 300,000 homeless people live on the streets of New Delhi
Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

January 3, 2013

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More than 160 people have died of exposure in recent days as the north of the country endures a cold spell that yesterday saw temperatures in New Delhi plummet to a 44-year low.  

The cold has claimed at least 114 lives in Uttar Pradesh, according to police, with 23 deaths coming within the last 36 hours.

Many of the dead were homeless people found in parks and along sidewalks. More than 50 deaths have been reported elsewhere.

Shrouded in dense fog, the national capital experienced its coldest January day since 1969 yesterday. Temperatures dropped to as low as 4.6 degrees Celsius, some 11 degrees below normal, according to the weather bureau.

“I have never experienced such cold before. I live on the street and have nowhere to go,” said Keshav Lal, a homeless daily laborer.  

With the cold spell expected to continue, there is mounting concern in New Delhi for the approximately 300,000 homeless people in the city.

One NGO, citing an acute shortage of homeless shelters, filed a petition in the High Court in a bid to pressure the government into providing emergency accommodation.

“There are 300,000 homeless in Delhi and at present only 7,500 have got accommodation in night shelters,” a lawyer representing the NGO told the court.

The court later called on the government to open 23 more shelters on top of the 154 available in the city.

Other NGOs and charitable organizations are doing their bit to try and keep the poor and homeless warm.

“We are supplying blankets, mattresses and other necessary material,” Father Fredrick D’souza, head of Caritas India, told

Fr Ravindra Jain, who runs a night shelter at St Columbus School in Delhi, said they were trying to help as many people as they can.

"We are providing tea and blankets so the nights are more comfortable," he added.

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