Sun Jan 15 2012, 00:57 hrs

Friday the 13th proved to be “unusually lucky” for 68-year-old Ratan Bhagat.

Referred from Kolkata’s SSKM Hospital to AIIMS for a bypass surgery, the former taxi driver had been spending his nights under the open sky — lying on a stretcher at the hospital, since January 6. On Friday evening, Bhagat’s sons wheeled his stretcher into a night shelter that was opened in the institute on Friday evening.

“The same guards, who threw us out when we tried to take shelter from the cold, brought me inside here today,” Bhagat said, his wrinkled face breaking into a toothless smile. A 600-square-feet waiting room for patients, adjacent to the out-patient registration counter, has been converted to a night shelter and handed over to an NGO for three months. Bhagat insisted that his stretcher be kept next to him, so he could be rushed out in the case of an emergency.

The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) worked towards setting it up with the help of AIIMS, following a Supreme Court order in this regard this week. Bhagat was among the 77 who slept at the night shelter on Friday night, estimated to have a capacity of around 250.

Bhikam Singh from Morena district in Madhya Pradesh has been at AIIMS for the last two months, seeking treatment for his wife, Mithilesh, who suffers from abdominal cancer. “We used to sleep in the parking lot. It was terribly cold, and all we could do was safeguard ourselves with plastic sheets and shawls. On Christmas night it was so cold my wife would not stop shivering, so the guard took pity on us and allowed us into the Delhi Metro bathroom for the night,” recalled Singh.

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