India court orders shelters for homeless in winter

People huddle around a fire during a cold snap in India The poor are worst affected by the cold weather

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India's Supreme Court has ordered states to provide adequate night shelters for the homeless during the coming winter.

"You should not allow even a single person to die this winter from the freezing cold," the judges said.

Indian-administered Kashmir, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh states usually experience severe cold snaps.

The capital Delhi is also affected, with one 2008 estimate saying 150,000 sleep rough in the freezing cold.

More than 50 people died in the cold in northern India last year. The cold snap also forced authorities to close down schools.

The court expressed concern that most states were yet to provide adequate shelters to the homeless, and asked the authorities to file a report on the condition of the facilities by 3 January.

"At the peak of winter, four people on an average die of cold in Delhi every day," Indu Prakash of the Indo-Global Social Services Society, which works with the homeless, told the BBC.

Authorities say the capital has 64 night shelters for the homeless. But activists say only 42 of these shelters were working, and the remaining had been closed down.

"Has the number of homeless people decreased in Delhi?" Justice Dalveer Bhandari asked. "It is difficult to believe."

Last year the Delhi government set up 84 night shelter tents, but only 16 of them continued to function after the government stopped paying NGOs to run the shelters, Mr Prakash said.

The court said it was not satisfied with the state of the night shelters in at least 14 states.

Last year a cold snap in northern India killed several people, shut schools and disrupted flights. The highway linking Kashmir with the rest of India was also shut due to snowfall.

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