The Om Shanti Anath Balak Ashram is located in the heart of the temple town of Alandi, yet not too many seem to know about it. The shelter home for boys is housed in a two-storeyed sprawling building, rented by Laxmi Mahila Mandal, the NGO which runs it.
The home has a sanctioned capacity to house 100 children. But when The Indian Express team visited the shelter, it had only four children. The shelter home administration said the home currently has seven inmates, three of whom had gone to meet their relatives.
“We had over 30 children till two months ago, when the rules for shelter homes were changed by Women and Child Development Department. As per the new rules, only children who have lost at least one parent can be admitted to the shelter. There was also a directive to comply with all the paperwork. Because of this, we could obtain permission to house only seven children. The rest were sent away,” said superintendent of the shelter home, K M Lature.
Shelter homes across the country have been under additional scrutiny after horrific reports about sexual abuse and exploitation of residents emerged from shelter homes in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh. At the shelter home in Alandi, on the ground floor, there is a large hall, a store room and a kitchen. The first floor has 11 rooms for the children, a bathroom, a room for the caretaker and a common room that opens into a large gallery.
The Indian Express team found that of the 11 rooms, only one was being used to house the children. While Lature maintained that the home had seven residents, the children and local residents claimed that it had only four. The other rooms are being rented out to devotees who visit the temple town for Rs 300-400 per day. The lodgers are reportedly provided snacks and tea by the caretakers for extra money.
The only room for the children didn’t have a bed, study table or cupboard. Some cots, however, were lined up in the hall. There was no bucket or mug in the bathroom. The only TV, in the superintendent’s office, didn’t work. The superintendent, Lature, claimed that he knew little about the working of the shelter home as he had taken over recently.
The ground floor of the two-storey building has been rented out to a tenant. Both Lature and the tenant claimed that the latter had moved in only for a period of two months, while the building he lived in gets refurbished.
Lature said the tenant will leave soon as the shelter home was in the process of getting more residents from the Women and Child Development Department. When asked about the practice of renting out rooms to outsiders, the caretaker said the shelter home administration only did so because most rooms were empty. He, however, maintained that the rent money went to the owner of the building, not the NGO.
According to Lature and a caretaker at the home, who said he has been associated with the shelter for years, the Women and Child Development Department earlier paid the NGO Rs 950 per child, but the amount was increased to Rs 1,250 a few months ago. They, however, claimed that for over two years, the amount had not been released by the
Laxmi Mahila Mandal, the NGO which runs the shelter home, is headed by Bhagwat Badame, who identified himself as a social worker. Apart from the shelter home in Alandi, Badame runs six to seven such homes in the state, including one for girls in Chimbli village off the Pune-Nashik Highway, said Lature. The shelter has an approved capacity for 100 residents, but houses only 16 girls, said Lature. Badame could not be contacted for comment.
Lature said a committee from the department had recently paid them a visit. “They inspected the premises.. they have asked us to make some changes and improve our facilities. Considering their requirements, and as per the new rules, we may have to move to a bigger premises. We have an approved capacity of 100 children and we may soon get more inmates,” he said. Lature showed the instructions by the committee members, asking the NGO to provide basic amenities such as buckets and mug, beds, mattresses and cupboards, and a functional TV in the hall.
A class VII student, who has been staying at the shelter home for two years, said, “I was sent to this ashram by my mother after my father passed away. I go to school in the morning. I do my homework and play for rest of the day. An aunty cooks food for us in the kitchen downstairs. We are treated well.”