Over ten months after the Union government proposed a national campaign for comprehensive rehabilitation of people engaged in beggary, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has so far identified nearly 29,000 persons, including women and children, engaged in activities of begging in the city. The civic body has been appointed as the nodal agency in charge of the campaign to prepare an action plan to make the city, along with nine others across the country, “begging free”.
Sangeeta Hasnale, Assistant municipal Commissioner (Planning), said that one meeting of stakeholders has been conducted and an action plan is prepared, which is likely to be finalised this week.
“The action plan has been put up for administrative approval and the draft has also been sent to the central government. We have proposed making the city begging-free in three phases. The first phase was identification through a survey, which has been done,” Hasnale said.
She added that the survey which included a list of people identified during distribution of food during the pandemic, includes subcategories like men, women, children, adolescents, and their educational qualifications. Based on these, the other phases will include linking them to shelters, skill development schemes.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had in January proposed to take up ten cities, including Mumbai, as part of the first phase of the campaign. The proposal was for a detailed action to be prepared in March by nodal agencies that would cover “identification, rehabilitation, provision of medical facilities, counselling, education, skill development and a sustainable settlement of the persons engaged in begging”.
The central government had directed a workshop of all stakeholders in February and thereafter an action plan consisting specific initiative with specific responsibilities and clear cut budgets by March. A civic official said that the delay to send the proposal was due to the pandemic with a few other cities part of the pilot project already allocated funds for implementation.
The project is expected to be co-funded on a 60:40 basis by the central and state governments. While Maharashtra has two cities — Mumbai and Nagpur — among the ten, other cities in the project include Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Patna, Lucknow and Indore.
In a recent hearing, the Bombay High Court has also raised concerns over children and women being engaged in begging, seeking directions to state and local authorities on action against syndicates that make them beg. Apprehensions were also raised that the number of cases of begging may increase due to the pandemic and many losing their jobs.
In Mumbai, begging remains criminalised, with many even on mere suspicion of not having any visible means of subsistence or wandering on the streets, are regularly picked up and detained. “The central government’s campaign shows that there is a need for a rehabilitative approach than criminalising those engaged in begging due to no other means of subsistence. Criminalising only pushes them further down the vulnerability cycle. The opportunity lies with the state government and the civic body as the nodal agency to prepare a comprehensive programme and see to its implementation,” said Mohammed Tarique, director of Koshish, the field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which works on the issue. He said there are enough provisions in the Indian Penal Code to deal with those who force people to beg as part of an organised syndicate.
A civic official said the survey has identified those who are begging out of helplessness as they are unable to find any other means of livelihood. According to the 2011 Census of India, there were 2,275 beggars in Mumbai. Experts said the figure was severely under-reported for a city that then had a population of over 1.24 crore people.
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