New Delhi: The Centre is considering a scheme to provide shelter, health care and skill development training to the homeless and destitutes to address the problem of beggary.
Through the scheme prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the government is aiming at providing a whole range of basic services like food, shelter, health care, counselling and rehabilitation to destitutes.
"Under the scheme, skill development training will be provided to the able-bodied destitutes so as to facilitate their reintegration into the mainstream society so that they may live a life with dignity.
"It will also encourage innovative interventions to strengthen the community-based approach towards rehabilitation of destitute with sensitisation programmes etc," said a senior government official.
The problem of destitution and beggary is becoming a major concern warranting urgent attention and intervention in view of the increasing numbers, especially of children and women, the official said.
In order to enhance transparency and accountability in the implementation of the scheme, the details of every beneficiary would be maintained in a computerised database and linked with their Aadhaar number in due course of time.
According to a poverty estimation study by Oxford University, UK, India is home to over 340 million destitute people and is the second poorest country in South Asia after strife-torn Afghanistan.
According to the 2011 Census, population of beggars and vagrants is about 4.13 lakh which includes 3.72 lakh persons under non-workers category and about 41,400 under marginal workers category.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, during 1992-1993 to 1997-98, had implemented a scheme for the prevention of beggary under which financial assistance was provided for establishment of work centres in the existing beggar homes for providing vocational training and technical education.
The scheme was discontinued from the year 1998-99 due to moderate demand from the state governments. There is no ongoing comprehensive central scheme directly related to protection, care and rehabilitation of destitute persons.
However, the Centre is implementing a number of programmes for the welfare of vulnerable groups. Under the new scheme, government would provide financial assistance to rehabilitation centres run directly by states and Union Territories which will ensure that basic amenities such as food, shelter, clothing and health care are available to the destitute and homeless, the official said.
The centres will arrange for facilities to provide vocational training to able-bodied destitute above 18 years so as to enable them to start income generating activities on their own or get gainfully employed in some sector.
Also, in order to monitor the implementation of the scheme, the states and UTs may set up State Advisory Committees or Boards. The subject of destitution and beggary is not mentioned in either Central or State List. However, as per entry nine of the state list in the seventh Schedule of the Constitution, "relief of the disabled and unemployable" is a state subject.
On the other hand, as per entry 15 of the Concurrent List, "vagrancy" is mentioned which is a variation of beggary. Kidnapping or maiming a minor for the purpose of begging is treated as an offence under section 363 A of IPC.
Further, Section 24 of Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 prohibits employment of juvenile or child for begging. Section 144 of the Indian Railway Act, 1989 stipulates prohibition of hawking and begging.
At present, 20 states and two UTs have either enacted their own anti-beggary legislation or adopted those enacted by other states. These anti-beggary laws are mostly based on the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 which criminalizes the act of begging and any person found involved in it can be arrested without warrant.
"With a large number of destitute in the country, the economy has to bear a huge load with very small or no contribution to the gross domestic product and it leads to wastage of human potential.
"Apart from economic burden, beggary causes other social problems such as drug abuse, trafficking, organised crime, child-related crimes etc. Therefore it needs redress both by the government and civil society through concerted efforts to arrest potential criminal activities like organised begging, trafficking of drugs etc," the official said.