By: Kapou Malakar
The Commonwealth Games 2010 is just a notch away. In an attempt to showcase Delhi as a shining example of a modern metropolis in India, the government has been frenetically trying to wrap up the endless construction works spread across Delhi including several other beautification projects.

Delhi’s beggar population has also been identified as a blotch to the city and the government is bent on cleaning them up off the city without a second thought. But what hits where it hurts the most is that even the Law does not seem to be protective of the beggars either.

According to Bombay Prevention of Beggars Act (BPBA), 1959, beggars are those persons who hawk magazines, toys and other miscellaneous items at traffic intersections; sell good luck charms, snake charmer, and who sing in roadside, the sadhus and so on. The BPBA defines beggars as those who don’t have any visible means of subsistence, receive alms and wander in public place.

“This Act allows police to arrest anyone who looks poor and to unfairly target those who are homeless and live in public places,” says Archana Dassi, a lecturer at the department of Social Work in Jamia Millia Islamia. “But anyone who does have a means to subsistence is not supposed to be arrested in the name of beggar prevention. This reflects one of the major lacunas of the BPBA Act.”

Sewa Kutir, an approved government organisation at Kingsway Camp in North Delhi, has been looking after the remand and rehabilitation of beggars since 1960. But, many complaints have been raised against the activities of Sewa Kutir related to arrest, order of trial and rehabilitation of beggars.

“I am too illiterate to know about any law which can arrest us. Earlier I was working as a waiter in a small roadside restaurant and just the day before I was thrown out from the restaurant, police arrested me as a homeless person,” says a forty-year-old Moti, who migrated from Bihar. “I did not get any training during my so-called probation period either,” he adds.

Vinod kumar, a rickshaw puller at trans Yamuna area in Delhi who migrated from Mathura, says, “In Jamatalashi (a personal search of the arrested beggar where articles are taken and receipt is given to the person which can be used to claim the return of those articles), my money amounted to Rs 136 was taken by the court (Sewa Kutir) without giving me any receipt and I was released after fifteen days of remand with a deducted amount of Rs 36.”

While the government is adamant to clean up the system, activist group such as Action Aid has decided not to take government with a loose knot. The organisation says the way the government seizes a beggar is inhuman as every one has a right to live.

The NGO Action Aid India has launched a shelter rights campaign programme called Aashray Adhikari Abhiyan(AAA) that is working with homeless people in Delhi since the year 2000.

“There is a need to generate awareness related to legal rights so that beggars can ensure and avail their rights after being arrested,” says Sushil Kumar Singh, an advocate of legal right programme of AAA.

The Article 39 of Indian constitution directs that the state secure the right to adequate means of livelihood of its citizens. In contradiction, Sewa Kutir arrests beggars under the BPBA Act labelling them as persons who need rehabilitation.

“Most of the accused under this Act don’t know the reason of their arrest and are not informed about the offence for which he or she is arrested,” says Paramjeet Kaur, the head of programme team of AAA. “This violates the article 22 of the Indian constitution”. According to Article 22, “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being not informed nor shall be denied the right to consultant to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice”.

According to a study conducted by Centre for Media Studies (CMS) in Delhi, about 90% of the population of beggars in Delhi are migrants from neighbouring states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“Most of the beggars arrested have their family in UP and Bihar. They support their family by the meagre amount they churn out of begging. They are poverty stricken people being pushed to Delhi for want of sustenance from their native place. More than three fourth of Delhi's beggars are driven by poverty,” says Alima Ahmed, a student at Department of Social work, JMI, who is working on beggars rehabilitation.

However, to improve the living condition of beggars, Delhi government runs beggar homes. According to government officials , there are 12 beggar homes at the outskirts of the city. But the condition of the beggar homes is no better than a prison cell says a beggar who had a stint in the beggar home. She later attended rehabilitation at AAA.

“Nearly 73% of the grants are spent on administration and maintenance whereas training and reform part of beggar homes gets only 23% of the allocated budget for beggary,” says Paramjeet Kaur. “So, the vocational training to be provided to the convicted beggar to earn his living after his release has not been implemented till now”, she adds.

However, BPBA Act treats begging as a crime and does not focus on rehabilitation of those beggars. “There are enough instances of begging rackets that force women and abduct children to get into this profession,” says Archana Dassi. She further adds “Beggars are often forced into beggary by unemployment, homelessness, and easy earnings. The policy of dumping of beggars is not going to solve the problem. Treating beggars as criminals is not going to help either.”