New Delhi, Oct 3 : Beggars in the national capital have done the vanishing act! Almost all roads and temples complexes are now looking beggar-free and hawkers selling balloons, magazines, pens and cheap accessories at traffic signals have also quietly disappeared overnight without explanation.
While human rights activists and NGOs have blamed the Delhi government for forcing hundreds of beggars to leave the city or remain invisible till the Commonwealth Games are over, state officials have denied such allegations.
"We have confirmed reports that many of the poor were taken to railway stations, boarded on trains and sent to neighbouring cities. They were also told not to return to the city till the Games are over," says Indu Prakash Singh of Indo-Global Social Service Society. "Authorities have unleashed a state of terror among the poor, who have been criminalised for seeking alms," Singh told PTI.
Sanjay Kumar of Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO that works for the destitute in the capital, agrees with Singh and says they have similar reports of how these poor people have been hounded up in the city. "We have information that many beggars were loaded into trucks and sent out side the city with a warning not to to return before the completion of the Games," says Kumar.
"This is very unfortunate. First, the government failed to provide a human solution to the problem of poverty and now they are trying to hide the very problem to the world."
However, officials deny the allegations. "Not a single beggar or homeless has been repatriated from Delhi because of the Games," a senior Social Justice Department official said, not wishing to be named. Without divulging any details about their clean-up drive, the official said, "Delhi Police are looking after the clean-up drive, you may ask them this question."
When asked, Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said, "We are not carrying out any such drive. Delhi Police have only provided 25 personnel to the (social) welfare department to assist them in preventing beggary."
According to an estimate by the Social Welfare Department, there are around 60,000 beggars in Delhi. Of them 30 per cent are below 18 years of age, 69.94 per cent are males and 30.06 per cent are females. Kumar says the number of beggars has gone down significantly in the city in the last few days.
"Kalkaji temple could be a case in point. A week ago, one could easily find about 600 beggars there. Now, hardly any one is visible. Where they all have gone?" The Hanuman temple complex in Connaught Place, Nizamuddin dargah, Yamuna Bazar area, Kali Bari Marg, Aruna Asaf Ali Road are some of the examples.
The beggar-eviction drive was planned in April last year. However, the decision drew severe criticism from several NGOs and human rights groups, following which the drive became low profile. But the activists claim authorities continued the drive "quietly and arrested hundreds of people" for begging in the city using the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959.
Those found guilty in one of the two mobile courts created for this purpose were sent to shelters. There are only 12 such shelters in the capital which cannot accommodate more than 2,200 people. "Where the others have gone," asks Kumar of AAA.
"These evictions are carried out under the guise of city beautification and urban renewal measures. First they wanted to criminalise poor people and then make them invisible," says Singh of IGSSS. "It's a very worrying situation. In a democratic country, how can you just force one to leave a place and his living? It's against the fundamental rights of a citizen," he rues.
There were also allegations that several shanty towns have been demolished in a bid to beautify the city for the Games. Huge boards have also been placed at road sides, which activists say, is aimed at hiding the dirt and poor localities. Miloon Kothari, a former UN special rapporteur on housing, had recently said that efforts to hide the truth of poverty doesn't speak very well for the international community.
"Actually it's indicative of a disconnect at the global level between mega sporting events and social realities," he had said. Echoing similar views, Anshu Gupta of Goonj, an NGO working for the poor, says, "It's very unfortunate if the beggars are really being forced to leave the city. "I must say India is writing another black story when so much bad things related to the Games have been exposed to the world."
Delhi has drawn international criticism for various issues ranging from financial irregularities to delay in preparations for the Games. PTI