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Publicity stunt? Begun in 2021, Govt of India scheme fails to bring 'smile' on beggars' face

By Harasankar Adhikari 
The history of begging indicated that in primitive societies, there was no problem with begging because small groups of relatives used to live together and support one another. But the phenomenon of begging emerged in association with private poverty. In fact, it is the root cause of inequality and injustice.
In the early civilizations, almsgiving was considered a holy deed and begging an honourable act. In traditional Indian society, beggary was never a problem because the socio-economic system had built-in safeguards for its prevention. Previously, the religious faith of the people encouraged begging in India, believing that it was one way to please the Almighty, but now it has become a profession since no physical or mental effort is required to earn one’s bread. Now, begging is one of the most endemic, multifaceted social problems of great magnitude.
It is very poignant in developing countries, particularly in India. A significant number of people are involved in begging, and the heavier the burden on the working population, the lesser the usage of human resources for constructive human development. Therefore, begging has become the mainstay for a quite large section of the population.
It is because of a number of factors, such as poverty (real or fraudulent poverty), religion, physical disability, culture, national disaster, civil war, bad habits (drug, alcohol, and gambling dependencies), family heritage, uncontrolled rural to urban migration, psychiatric disabilities and disorders, etc.
It is undoubtedly due to the absence of any means of livelihood, a large number of people were driven to begging, some temporarily and some permanently. The Supreme Court observed, "It is a socio-economic problem, and people are forced to beg to eke out their livelihood due to the absence of education and employment."
The Government of India recently considered begging a burden for the development of the country, and it is a matter of shame for the government. Many programmes and policies have failed to encounter the problems of poverty and unemployment associated with it. Recognising this, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recently came up with an umbrella scheme, SMILE: Support for Marginalised Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise for the Comprehensive Rehabilitation of Persons Engaged in the Act of Begging.
Till date, beggars, irrespective of age, sex, are in a static position. They beg in crowded places, places of worship, railway stations
It covers several comprehensive measures, including welfare measures for persons who are engaged in the act of begging, with a focus extensively on rehabilitation, provision of medical facilities, counselling, education, skill development, economic linkages, etc., with the support of state governments, UTs, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), institutions, and others.
But has it brought a "smile" to the faces of beggars in India? How and where has it been implemented, and what are the impacts of this scheme?
According to the Ministry, this scheme was to start in 2021. But to date, beggars, irrespective of age, sex, etc., are in a static position. They are begging in crowded places, places of worship, railway stations, and others. There is no awareness and mobilisation camp undertaken, at least at Kolkata metropolis, while the number of beggars has increased in the aftermath of the pandemic.
So, is it only a scheme for publicity for the government, and is it enough to strengthen the strategic face value of the government? When will the government wake up? Is it after the 18th general election?



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