Times of India
08 June 2010
By Ambika Pandit
New Delhi, India
Run From Labour Dept Building, Centre Faces Closure Now
Wearing a salwar kameez, Shanti (name changed) can be seen going about her daily routine silently. Abandoned by her family, HIV positive and mentally challenged, this 35–year–old construction worker was rescued from a garbage dump with maggots eating into her body. Today, her only hope of survival is the Shramik Referral Centre where she lives along with 25 other inmates. But now there is a question mark over the survival of the centre itself.
Operating out of what is locally referred to as the old labour court building in Giri Nagar area of Kalkaji since 2004, the centre for people living with HIV/AIDS has been under attack from 2008, the most recent attempt being on May 5.
The centre is run by activist Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury, who is also a member of the monitoring committee appointed by Delhi high court to oversee mental health activities related to women, children, labourers and homeless. Delhi high court put the building under police protection through an order dated October 22, 2008, and reiterated the same on May 7, 2010.
“This centre was inaugurated by chief minister Sheila Dikshit in 2004. The building, originally built as a shram kalyan kendra by the labour department, was allocated for the Centre. At that point, it was completely encroached upon by private akharas, transporters and gas agencies etc,” Sreerupa told Times City.
The NGO’s MoU with the state to run the centre was extended by one year after expiry of the initial three–year–period. “But trouble broke out in 2008. This was after I submitted a report to the high court, ‘People of the Street’, in what is known as the Pratibha Chopra Case. “The report had observations on the functioning of government departments, including the gap in services for the weaker sections at the existing labour welfare centre,” says Sreerupa. All this is mentioned in the applications filed in the high court.
An application filed in 2008 states that on September 26, 2008, the state labour minister, Mangat Ram Singhal, led a delegation to the referral centre – about 75 to 100 people were present – which shouted slogans. The application says one of the slogan was – “We will dislodge you all from here soon. Mangat Ram zindabad, Sreerupa Mitra murdabad.”
“They attacked the workers and care givers and discussed plans in the middle of very sick patients and doctors, who were feeling threatened and uncertain of the consequences,” the application reads.
It was alleged in the same application that Singhal visited the centre three times in four years and intimidated and humiliated them. Sreerupa claims that after the attack in 2008, she met the chief minister who pulled up Singhal for his unwarranted intervention at the centre.
While the minister didn’t visit the centre again, it has been targeted repeatedly, claims Sreerupa. First, it was served a notice by labour department asking to vacate the premises as the MoU had expired. Sreerupa took up the matter with the court and a stay was granted. The next hearing is on June 9.
The latest attack is alleged to have happened on May 5 this year. Around 3.30am, at least two men armed with a rod and a countrymade pistol entered the premises, according to the care givers. Shivani (name changed), a resident here, saw the men jump over the gate and rush towards them. A panic call was made to the police and the cops came promptly but the intruders managed to escape.
“The court was apprised of the matter and an order was passed on May 7. I met and apprised the CM of the matter the day after the attack and she immediately took up the matter with the police commissioner,” said Sreerupa.
“In the last four months many untoward events have occurred. For instance, the boundary wall has been broken over and over again at different points. The windowpanes of the auditorium have been smashed and locks broken. Even garbage has been thrown into the premsies,” says Sreerupa.
Friday, Feb 24th
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