By Maxwell Pereira
Delhi Government under chief secretary Shailaja Chandra was the
only time when some serious effort was made to tackle effectively
the beggar menace in the national capital. The social welfare
department whose baby it is to manage beggars had utterly failed
despite a law on anti-beggary and adequate beggar homes in position
for incarceration and rehabilitation, and police backup available
at the drop of a hat when sought. No amount of court interventions
and High Court directives had helped either.
on 24 September 2002, the Delhi High Court again directed Delhi
administration to clear the capital city of beggars and hawkers
as they `obstruct the smooth flow of traffic'. The order came
in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) petition that
described beggars and homeless people as the `ugly face of the
nation's capital' and as people who, among other things, caused
cue from the High Court, Ms Chandra latched on to me as the city’s
then traffic chief to come up with a workable plan that could
rid our road junctions of beggars. While I had nothing in the
‘traffic’ arsenal to target beggars, the traffic police
could definitely target those vehicle owners and drivers who patronized
begging and vending on the road – and that’s what
we did by invoking the powers to issue direction to regulate road
traffic etc - to ban giving of alms and vending activity at road
junctions under pain of fine. The Traffic Police notification
provided for the imposition of a fine on motorists who gave money
to beggars or bought things from vendors at road junctions.
was seen as an aggressive approach against beggary. And I was
quoted critically as how beggary is a menace that "flourishes
with impunity in the streets of Delhi much to the disgust, distaste
and horror of the community at large. The first thing every tourist
learns about India is that it is a land of beggars."
am an avid supporter of the NGO movement and find laudable the
work they do in varied areas of deprivation and discrimination.
But the effective enforcement of the new rule was pinching and
not palatable to the NGOs working in the field of street children.
The entire NGO world descended on me like a ton of bricks. I was
constrained to pick up the gauntlet to face the tirade against
the traffic police move, and face the NGO music in different fora
– panel discussions, conferences and jan-sunwaiis. The plight
of those deprived of their livelihood by my merciless act of sweeping
them off the road with a draconian law was thrashed threadbare
- under intense media scrutiny.
people of Delhi though, strongly approved our move and stood by
us. The result, within days Delhi’s roads were clean of
beggars, enough even to attract the international media to carry
India’s this step against beggars to their own distant lands
across continents and oceans.
part of the debate while facing the NGO onslaught, when I insisted
that there was a vested interest commercialising beggary through
maiming and dismemberment of victims kidnapped or recruited for
the purpose, an old Delhi Police crime branch study was waved
in my face claiming that the study did not find any role of criminals
or mafia operating behind begging in Delhi. Delhi Police’s
inability to expose the mafia content behind beggary was used
by Indu Prakash Singh, the director of Ashray Adhikaar Abhiyan
to defend beggar community as a “distressed people”
and that the police should decriminalize begging – especially
since “people do not beg out of choice, but out of compulsion.
How can the government say it is an organized crime?"
am sure there is a vast segment of beggars who fall in the category
described by the NGOs as “distressed people”. But
I firmly believed in the existence of beggar mafias that exploit
and commercialise the Indians’ tendency to gain punya by
giving alms. That crime syndicates working behind begging do exist.
And no doubt a large number of people are brought into Delhi for
begging. I also remember reading how Professor BB Pande of Delhi
University’s Law Faculty was then quoted saying there were
seven gangs who controlled organized begging in the city.
the criminal mafia character behind beggary needed more attention
of the police, even while the infrastructure created within social
welfare department needed to have been put to adequate and effective
use to fight the beggar menace sincerely. Given the pressures
and list of priorities the police are saddled with, that beggars
do not come anywhere near the top priority should not surprise
so, the gory expose over the weekend by the CNN-IBN TV channel
of a beggar-doctor mafia is incomprehensible. That a beggar mafia
exists and it tortures and maims people to make them beg. And
there are doctors too who help the mafia by amputating the limbs
of healthy people. The channel claimed there are more than 12,000
handicapped beggars in Delhi alone. And it is doctors like the
ones they captured on sting camera that help the beggar mafia
to mutilate, terrorise and live off the beggars of the city –
a fact, confirmed by beggars themselves.
the absence of an aggrieved complainant and “an act in furtherance
of the stated intention” it is unfortunate that the ‘exposed’
doctors are likely to go scot free… infuriating even further
and shocking people’s conscience more. Much sensation, that
is all the channel has achieved. Had it consulted its own legal
advisors how to go about it so the perpetrators could be effectively
punished, perhaps the expose could have been better handled. But
then the channel has achieved its objective of ratings. The rest
of course, they expect, is up to the police - with or without
31, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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