Delhi Was Rid of Beggars!
television channel recently exposed the nexus between beggar mafias
and rogue doctors, bringing to sharp focus the persistent problem
of beggary and its gory dimensions. In vivid detail was exposed
the role of unscrupulous medical professionals resorting to a
horrifying and unethical practice of amputating healthy limbs
and surgically creating deformities for commercial self-gain,
at the behest of beggar mafias.
the social malaise of beggary continues to flourish with impunity
in Indian cities is an under statement. It exists much to the
disgust, distaste and horror of the community, affecting public
health and environmental ambience of city life. It affects tourism
too, with the unwelcome picture beggary portrays. While no effective
action to eradicate or curb this menace has been forthcoming,
social scientists have endeavoured to highlight there is more
to it than the blatant attempts by repressive crime control agencies
to criminalize a social problem of poverty, destitution, homelessness,
underemployment and unemployment in urban slums and ghettos.
laws do exist. Social Welfare Departments (SWD) are tasked with
tackling, if not eradicating the menace
and the police assist
them in this task. Joint drives are conducted periodically to
remove beggars from public places. Those picked up are produced
before designated courts, where most secure immediate release
on various grounds or assurances. A few get remanded to beggar
homes meant for vocational training and rehabilitation. But defeating
the objective, their incarceration is never for more than few
days - invariably, all get back to their favourite begging spot
to haunt and solicit with added vigour.
serious effort was made to tackle the menace in the national capital
when Delhi High Court on 24 September 2002, directed Delhi administration
to clear the city of beggars and hawkers - this time, because
they "obstruct the smooth flow of traffic". The court
ruled that beggars and homeless people are the ugly face of the
who, among other things, caused `road rage'.
Coming on the eve of the April 2003 PATA Conference, it perhaps
demanded more attention for concerted action against beggars.
Taking cue from the High Court, the then Chief Secretary Shailaja
Chandra tasked me as the city's traffic chief for a plan to rid
road junctions of beggars. While the 'traffic' arsenal had nothing
concrete to target beggars, we came up with the idea of discouraging
and penalizing vehicle owners and drivers who patronized beggars
and vendors at road intersections.
we notified the rule - "No motorist shall encourage or indulge
in activity detrimental to traffic flows or safety of road users
at signalised traffic junctions. Giving alms to beggars or purchasing
articles/ wares/ goods from roadside vendors at traffic junctions
is an act obstructive to the quick discharge and smooth flow of
traffic, and/ or hazardous in nature likely to endanger safety
of other road users".
of this notification pinched - and was not palatable to NGOs working
with street children. We countered effectively the resultant tirade.
Our stand that vested interests are commercialising beggary, even
to the extent of maiming and dismembering victims kidnapped or
recruited for the purpose, was decried by activists waving an
old DP crime-branch study finding no role of criminals or mafia
behind begging in Delhi. Perhaps the police's inability to expose
mafia content behind beggary was used to defend the beggar community
as a "distressed people" asking police to 'de-criminalize'
begging as "people do not beg out of choice, but out of compulsion".
is for sure a vast segment of beggars who fall in the category
of "distressed people". But I firmly believed in the
existence also of beggar mafias to exploit and commercialise the
Indians' tendency to gain punya by giving alms. I believed that
crime syndicates working behind begging do exist. And no doubt
a large number of people are brought into Delhi for begging.
the flip side, also true - the criminal mafia character behind
beggary needed more attention of the police, even while the infrastructure
within the SWD be used adequately and effectively 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 top priority should not surprise anyone.
projection of the 'plight' of those deprived of livelihood by
my merciless act of sweeping them off the road with a 'draconian'
law, did not hold water - and we won the day, at least for a while.
The Delhi public strongly approved our move. Looking back, even
if it was for a brief spell, Delhi's roads were clean of beggars
- the only time so perhaps, in the last over three decades of
my association with the city.
750 words: Copyright © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sector-23, Gurgaon-22017Available
at: 0124-5111025 /026 : at http://www.
maxwellpereira.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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