New Delhi: The Indian capital has over 60,000 beggars and getting them off the streets as the city is cleaned up for the Commonwealth Games is proving to be a cat and mouse game for the Delhi authorities.
As the October mega event draws near, the Social Welfare Ministry of the Delhi government has said there should be "intensity of action" on the anti-begging drive. Begging is an illegal activity in Delhi.
"The progress on the anti-begging drive in Delhi is far from satisfactory," a senior government official said.
"In a meeting with enforcement officers, Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal asked for a weekly report on the drive. Much needs to be done," said the official who was part of the meeting.
According to a government estimate, there are around 60,000 beggars in the capital, 30 percent of whom are below 18 years of age. Around 69.94 percent are men and 30.06 percent women.
NGOs, however, say the actual number of beggars is over 100,000.
With around 100,000 foreign visitors expected to throng the capital during the October 03-14 Games, the government has been focussing on the anti-begging drive in areas like New Delhi railway station, Connaught Place, Khan Market and Hanuman Temple.
However, these areas are far from being free of beggars.
The present strategy of using vehicles to nab beggars has turned out to be a "complete failure", making the "authorities anxious about how to catch them", according to a government source.
"At present our enforcement team goes out in a vehicle to nab them, but the beggars seem to be more smart as they disappear on seeing the vehicle. They run away and come back when the team goes," he said.
Officials are trying to see a silver lining though.
"But there is one good thing in the beggars fleeing the place on our officials` visit - when they flee, our purpose is served!" the official added.
The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, is being used by Delhi and 17 other states. It allows the police to detain anyone found begging on the streets.
People found guilty of begging are sent to shelters, which are 12 in number in Delhi and can accommodate about 2,200 people. There are around 12 mobile courts in the city for trying beggars.
"We train them in various skills at the shelters so that they get employment. It is done so that they don`t go out and beg again," the source added.
The official also blamed gangs operating in the city for helping the beggars stay out of the law`s reach and for exploiting little children who are forced to beg.
The government`s drive has drawn flak from social activists.
Sanjay Kumar of Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO that works for the destitute in the capital, said the anti-begging drive would not be successful as the system does not allow it to be.
"What is the need to terrorise and put them (beggars) behind bars? The drive has its problems as the system itself does not allow it to be successful," he added.
"There are people who hire beggars, even from outside the city. So the root cause should be looked into," he said.