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21 Jan, 2010 05:25

Beggars forced off New Delhi streets

India is clamping down on beggars on the streets of capital New Delhi. Despite the optimism of the officials, the measures only appear to have a cosmetic effect.

New Delhi alone has around 100,000 beggars. Even though their actions are illegal, authorities have never taken action against them until now. With the Commonwealth Games coming in October, the government wants to spruce up the city's image.

“Beggars are a nuisance, and have to be stopped. When we make Delhi into a world-class city, it will be compared to those in other countries. Wherever you go overseas, you do not see any beggars. So why should there be beggars in Delhi?” Mangat Ram Singhal, Social Welfare Minister, explains the initiative.

Two mobile courts have been set up to comb the streets and prosecute beggars. If caught, they face up to a year in a detention center, while frequent offenders could be put away for ten years.

As Mangat Ram Singhal says, in these centers beggars are fed and provided with clothes and health facilities. They can also get training in carpentry, candle-making and weaving.

On the day RT witnessed the court in action, no beggars were found. Since the team only operates for three hours each weekday morning, it seems it has not taken the city's beggars long to wise up and know when to lie low.

Critics say the government is going for the symptom of the disease and not the root cause, which is poverty. Beggars earn around 100 rupees (approximately two dollars a day), which is more than the daily income of wage earners. As long as that continues, begging is not likely to disappear anytime soon.