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Govt plan to make Delhi ‘beggar-free’ still distant dream with 5-yr rehab project at standstill

Delhi govt plans to relocate beggars ahead of September G20 Summit. But details of implementation of 2021 Union scheme for rehabilitation 'under consideration' since pilot project end.

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New Delhi: Ahead of the G-20 Summit scheduled to be held in India in September this year, the Delhi government’s plans to relocate beggars in the city are in full swing — a step it could have easily skipped if previous plans to make the capital “beggar-free” were successfully implemented.

India took over the presidency of the G20 group of countries in December last year and plans have been afoot since to prepare for the Summit to be hosted in Delhi in September. The plan to relocate Delhi’s beggars is part of this preparation.

In November 2021, the central government had launched a pilot project to rehabilitate beggars in 10 Indian cities, including Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, among others. The plan had an ambitious roadmap to create livelihood opportunities through training and skill-building that could help them achieve gainful employment. Moreover, the larger objective was to deal with beggary as a “social problem” and not as a “criminal act”.

But after the end of the pilot project in February 2022, a longer rehabilitation programme has still not been initiated in the national capital. According to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the “modalities of implementation of the scheme were still under consideration”.

An official from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment told ThePrint that the rehabilitation project was at a standstill since the features of the scheme, like the target beneficiaries, agencies for implementation, and the best strategies for the project were still being reviewed.

“You chart out a scheme once, but after seeing how it works on the ground, there are other things that come up that weren’t factored in at the planning stage. So, learning from the results of the pilot projects, it will be modified, if needed, to address any limitations so that it gives the best results,” said the official.

The official added that there were still a few days left for the financial year 2022-2023 to end, and the scheme might just become operational during that window. “There was still time for the funds from last year to be utilised,” he said.

But according to those working on the ground, the mobilisation of beggars and alcoholism among them, were the challenges impacting the success of the project.

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What is the scheme 

After the completion of the first trial run in February 2022, a more extensive plan had to be charted out targeting 20,719 individuals as “persons engaged in the act of begging” (PEAB) in Delhi, identified by the Institute for Human Development. However, since then, there has not been a renewal of the programme.

According to the plan, the responsibility of carrying out the training and rehabilitation continues to be the responsibility of the Delhi government’s Department of Social Welfare, while the relocation of beggars and shelters is now under the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

“After the pilot project, about 25 beggars were rehabilitated from one shelter home, but the pilot project was for a short time. It helped us make a base and gave us some grounding. We will take it up again and ensure the programme reaches all the DUSIB shelters. The objective is to direct them towards earning instead of begging,” senior officials from the Delhi government’s social welfare department told ThePrint.

Though the Delhi government is the implementing agency, the scheme called “Comprehensive Rehabilitation of persons engaged in the act of Begging” comes under the central government’s umbrella scheme “SMILE — Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise”, launched on 30 November 2021. The target was to rehabilitate 20,000 beggars across India in the next five years.

The funds for these five years had also been allocated starting from Rs 10 crore in 2021-2022 to Rs 30 crore in 2025-2026, with an increment of Rs 5 crore each year.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment launched the pilot project in 10 cities — Indore, Patna, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, Nagpur, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Mumbai — with the help of the state governments/UTs/Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) etc., under SMILE.

Several comprehensive measures, including survey/identification, mobilisation, medical facilities and sustainable settlement of people engaged in beggary were undertaken under these pilots.

Though confirmed by the central government that the rehabilitation scheme was not operational, the funds for 2023-2024 which were slated to be released annually for the scheme, continued to pour in, according to the original plan, despite the programme being stalled.

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Issues with the pilot scheme 

Dr Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, one of the NGOs assigned with the task of rehabilitating beggars under the pilot project at a homeless shelter on Delhi’s Roshanara Road, told ThePrint that 99 per cent of beggars from his batch were employed.

“After training in wall painting and other similar courses, we were able to get them jobs. However, there were some who couldn’t perform well and were not retained by their employers. The major reason for this, I think is alcoholism,” said Kumar, adding that if this concern goes unaddressed, it would be difficult to make the scheme work on a larger scale.

“Mobilisation of beggars” was another concern, cited by Rashmi Singh, former director of the Delhi government’s social welfare department. In an interview during the launch of the scheme in November 2021, Singh had told ThePrint that the key issue in the pilot project was to persuade beggars, especially women, to leave everything behind and join skill classes.

“The data of beggars was there, but to look for them, to convince and counsel them to get on board with this programme – the process of mobilisation was very difficult,” she added.

(Edited by Richa Mishra)

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