Waiting for Aadhar data to firm up policy against begging, says Social Welfare Minister Kiran Walia
“The punishment for child trafficking is three years, that for rape is seven years but a person caught begging the third time round can land in prison for 10 years. This is because the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, is archaic and is based on a British law which saw beggars as a nuisance and did not view begging as a practice to end which a systematic approach was needed,” Delhi Social Welfare Minister Kiran Walia said over the weekend.
The Minister said Delhi will soon formulate a policy to discourage begging and for this a “comprehensive solution” is being worked out in consultation with various experts. She said the Delhi Government would also make a strong pitch with the Centre for replacement of the existing law with a more pragmatic one.
“The 1959 law is Draconian, to say the least. It believes in just catching the beggars and putting them in jail. And the punishment is extremely severe. But we believe there is need to adopt a more humane approach and to rehabilitate the beggars and their families so that they do not return to this practice,” she said.
Prof. Walia had on Friday chaired a meeting on “comprehensive solution to make the city free from beggary and care plan for homeless destitute” at the Delhi Secretariat which was attended among others by Director (Social Welfare) Achala Singh, representative of Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mohammad Tariq, managing trustee of Whole Mind India Foundation Akhileshwar Sahai and social activists Amod Kumar and P. C. Sharma.
The Minister said the Delhi Government would be formulating a policy to discourage begging through imparting of vocational skills and rehabilitation. “It will be a well-studied approach. We have had workshops on the issue and the experts have come out with their reports based on which we would formulate a plan.”
There were some interesting findings too, she said. “A majority of the beggars are not part of any gang. They are basically destitutes, many are drug addicts, some are jobless people who came from other States in search of a livelihood and there are also senior citizens who have been thrown out of their homes.”
The Minister said a sizeable population of these beggars are drug addicts and then vice versa there are many who belong to middle class families but became beggars after their families abandoned them due to their addiction to drugs.
Prof. Walia said detaining beggars for some time and then letting them off was not the main issue. “We want to impart vocational skill training to them in the fields of carpentry and repair works so that they may be able to find jobs. Apart from this, the plan envisages educating the beggar children and taking care of the families of the beggars too.”
Prof. Walia said while the Department does not have reliable data on the number of beggars on Delhi streets, it is waiting for the Aadhar data to come through to help in formulating the plans. “About 130 lakh of the 170 lakh population of Delhi has already been covered by the Aadhar census and this report would be useful,” she said.