In 2021, Mumbai Police had launched the ‘Zero Beggars’ drive in an attempt to make the city begging free. Under this drive, all police stations in Mumbai were asked to track beggars and keep them at a special home in Chembur after testing them for COVID-19 infection.
The drive to rid Mumbai of beggars was supposed to be carried out during the month of February 2021 according to the directions of Joint Commissioner of Police Vishwas Nagre Patil under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. All police stations were instructed to detain these beggars, take permission from the court, conduct their COVID-19 tests and then lodge them at the beggars’ homes.
A senior police officer told Afternoon Voice under the condition of anonymity, “Looking at the geographical size of Mumbai, the department lacks manpower. From high profile securities to bandobast maximum staff is stalled, police chauki has limited force, crime investigation is at a low pace, in such conditions it’s easy to announce anything but very difficult to execute.”
T . Lavanya social activist said, “It was a good initiative though, just putting them in homes is not going to help rehabilitate with work like infra etc. and people providing alms would also need to contribute to this effort equally by donating to a digital fund for rehab than providing direct alms on streets.”
While the intentions behind the anti-begging drive looked noble, experts and activists raised questions on adequate space to accommodate beggars in the Chembur home and further rehabilitation. There were huge media coverages but all the beggars are still parked in their own spaces.
It’s been almost one year now but Mumbai could not be beggars free, and on the other hand, there is a rise in the beggars’ population on Mumbai pedestals.
Senior advocate and activist Abha Singh already raised the question by stating, “Will this drive end begging in Mumbai? For how long will the beggars’ home keep them? Is there a plan to rehabilitate them? The police can implement the law but what next. There should be a plan to eradicate begging and it should not be a token drive.”
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) identified approximately 29,000 people including women and children engaged in begging in the city in November 2020. By December 2021 the population of beggars almost doubled in the city.
Hanumant Shevde, a man who is doing research on beggars said, “A beggars’ home, where the majority of inmates are not beggars this is the truth about the Chembur Beggars’ Home; most of the people here have been caught by police and left here. But around 70-80 per cent of the people are the elderly suffering from mental illnesses, cancer patients and even persons who are simply walking on the roads. Meanwhile, frantic families are on the lookout for these missing family members, unaware that they have been forcibly put into a beggar’s home.”
Mohammed Tarique has been instrumental in making amendments to The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959 that the cops have misused so often to put people into the beggars’ homes.