Over a month after the High Court decriminalised the act of begging, The Hindu visited one of the biggest beggar homes in the Capital at Lampur in Narela only to find that the complex has not seen a single inmate for the past two years
On August 8, the Delhi High Court passed a landmark ruling decriminalising the act of begging in the Capital. This meant the police could not arrest anyone for begging and that all persons housed in the 11 beggar homes across Delhi would be released immediately.
Over a month after the High Court verdict, The Hindu visited of one of the biggest beggar homes in the Capital located at Lampur in Narela only to find that the complex has not seen a single inmate for the past two years.
The Sewa Sadan Complex in Lampur, which comprises five homes for beggars with a maximum capacity of 1,525 inmates, has had no beggars since July 2016, stated the Delhi Social Welfare Department.
Located on the outskirts of the city, the State government complex, built on a sprawling 35-acre land, was meant to house and rehabilitate beggars.
“After our last inmate was released on July 21, 2016, there have been no beggars here. The courts have not sent anyone here since then,” said Shiv Narayan Singh, the superintendent of the homes’ complex.
At the entrance of the Lampur complex, a recent storm blew away the board that displayed the address above the gate, say workers.
Unmanicured lawns have taken over the corridors, while the insides of the buildings lie in various stages of disrepair.
Monkeys, dogs and insects enjoy the lush green surroundings.
There are 11 institutions for beggars in various parts of Delhi that looked after them as and when they were sent to these homes. In these homes, boarding, lodging, medical and food was provided to inmates.
People found guilty of begging under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which was extended to Delhi as well in 1960, were sentenced by special courts to time at the beggars’ homes, which could range up to a maximum of 10 years.
Data available on the Social Welfare Department’s website show a consistent decline in the number of persons arrested for begging and those convicted since 2014.
While 4,203 persons were arrested on charge of begging in 2014, the figure fell by 43% to 2,368 in 2016. Persons convicted of begging also declined from 488 in 2014 to 241 in 2016. During January and March 2017, 612 persons were arrested on the charge of begging, of which 64 were convicted as beggars and sent to beggar homes.
‘Futility of arrest’
The High Court had in its verdict pointed out that the government was using homelessness and begging synonymously, and was in fact detaining the homeless as if they were begging.
“In this process, the State will be detaining persons who are not engaged in begging, such persons may be daily wagers and/or having family members to support. As a result of detention of the breadwinner of the family, the entire family may be reduced to financial deprivation and penury,” it had noted.
The court also highlighted the futility of lodging and detaining beggars in homes for beggars saying it was “wastage of public funds”.
The Department of Social Welfare had a beggar’s court at Kingsway Camp and two mobile beggar courts, which were started in 2009 ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
We are working on rehabilitation, training programmes: Minister
When The Hindu contacted an official at the beggar court in Kingsway Camp for information, he said the special court had been dismantled immediately after the High Court verdict.
The phone numbers listed with the Social Welfare Department for the two mobile courts in Lajpat Nagar were either out of service or did not receive any response.
Faced with underutilisation of the Lampur complex, the Delhi government is now planning to use the space to house persons with disabilities.
Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam had in July conducted an inspection of the space and ordered the Department to start working on a plan to shift to Lampur inmates from the overcrowded Asha Kiran complex for patients of intellectual disabilities or mental retardation.
Speaking to The Hindu last week, Mr. Gautam said the shifting would be finished within six to eight months after a round of renovations at the complex.
“I have issued instructions to the Department to shift all patients of mental retardation to the Lampur complex after renovations. Apart from basic renovations to the buildings, we will be setting up a skill training centre,” he said.
Among the skill workshops to be offered will be candle-making, air-conditioner and refrigeration repair, computer training and housekeeping.
In the meantime, the Asha Kiran complex will be converted into a training centre for persons with disabilities, with a “dedicated hub” for skill development of patients as well as training of trainers, Mr. Gautam said.