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Extremely low utilization of beggars welfare fund 'erodes' GoI's claimed intentions

By Bharat Dogra* 

The task of helping all too numerous beggars to find a better future while also attending to the urgent welfare needs of those among them who face serious health or disability problems is a big but often neglected task in India. It is good to know therefore that the Department of Social Justice, Government of India (GoI)  has a scheme dedicated to the rehabilitation of those engaged in begging.
Unfortunately, however, the budget allocation for this scheme has been going down quite drastically – from INR 100 crore in 2020-21 to INR 50 crore in 2021-22 to just INR 15 crore in 2022-23. What is even more important is to look at how less actual spending has been compared to even this declining allocation.
In 2020-21, compared to an allocation (or budget estimate) of INR 100 crore, the actual spending was zero. Next year, compared to the allocation of INR 50 crore, the actual expenditure was merely 0.05 crore. For next year 2022-23 the actual spending data for only the first nine months up to 31 December, 2022 is available at present and this shows that actually only INR 0.26 crore had been spent.
Such an extremely low utilization of this scheme is very unfortunate as so much can be done for the welfare of beggars. It is well-known that many of them have been forced by circumstances into begging and some of the child beggars may even be victims of organized gangs. Hence in most cases rehabilitation efforts will be very useful, although in some cases rehabilitation may involve rescue efforts as well.
Apart from rescuing those beggars, particularly child beggars, who may be in the clutches of some organized gangs, there is also the urgent task of reviewing the cases of those homeless or poor persons who have been wrongly picked up or targeted in the course of anti-begging drives. Then there is the related task of reviewing some laws which increase the possibilities of injustice being done to poor and homeless people in the name of anti-begging drives.
Rs 150 crore were allocated for two years, 2020-22, but only Rs 5 lakh was spent. In 2022-23, the allocation was reduced to Rs 15 crore
There are several experienced social workers and organizations, lawyers and legal aid organizations and also senior or retired officials who can contribute much to human rights work related to this issue as well as to various creative humanitarian rehabilitation efforts giving new hope to thousands of persons who have been badly caught up in unfortunate circumstances which force them to survive on begging in very difficult conditions, often in conditions of homelessness or near homelessness.
This effort can also be linked to some other very relevant work relating to the wider issue of sheltering all homeless persons. If the entire amount of INR 150 crore allocated for this scheme during two years 2020-22 had been spent in creative ways, involving the best available expertise on this issue, a lot could have been achieved from the INR 150 crore allocated for the financial years 2020-21 and 2021-22. But unfortunate only INR 0.05crore or INR5 lakh was actually spent, making hardly any impact.
As for 2022-23 with reduced allocation of only INR 15 crore and spending up to 31 December 2022 of only INR 26 lakh (data only up to this date is available at present), there is not much evidence at this juncture of any important work being done.
However, learning from this dismal experience, it is important to remove the problems which have retarded the effective utilization of funds so far and make a new beginning this year. The allocation of INR 20 crore in 2023-24 should be raised at the time of preparing Revised Estimate so that a promising beginning can be made this year regarding this important but neglected scheme which can potentially do a lot of good.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Protecting Earth for Children’ and ‘When the Two Streams Met’



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