From the streets of Hyderabad straight into central prison, albeit a rehabilitation centre which is operated by the jails department. That's the fate of beggars in the city, ordered to be off their favourite haunt of traffic junctions for two months. This is so that when Ivanka Trump and her entourage from the US come visiting for the Global Entrepreneur Summit at the end of November, there is no one knocking on the windscreen of the car to beg for alms.
For Hyderabad, this brings a sense of deja vu. In March 2000, when former US president Bill Clinton touched down in Hyderabad, the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had ordered a similar crackdown on beggars. While the exercise in the year 2000 was a cosmetic, temporary measure but in 2017, the effort is to ensure the beggars aren't back once the VIP has exited.
In the last three days, 198 beggars have so far been shifted to rehabilitation centres at Chanchalguda and Cherlapally jails. These were unused structures that have been spruced up to accommodate the beggars. A makeover is on offer here, which includes a haircut, wash, fresh clothes and facilities like a bed, fan and TV. The drive by the cops to nab the beggars had its effect as most of the able-bodied professional beggars ran away.
"Out of the 198 beggars who we brought to the Anand Ashram, 77 have gone home. A majority were in the age group of 30 to 45 and able-bodied so there was no reason for them to beg. We are warning those who are going away that if found begging again, they will be prosecuted," says VK Singh, DGP of Prisons in Telangana, coordinating the effort. The prisons department has also got their Aadhaar cards made to facilitate identification.
This week, Hyderabad Police commissioner Mahender Reddy issued orders prohibiting begging in the city for two months. The notification said: "Indecent and awkward acts of begging are causing a nuisance, annoyance, embarrassment and obstruction to vehicular traffic, pedestrians and public order, endangering safety. Children and handicapped persons are being employed to solicit or receive alms at main junctions."
A majority of the beggars were picked up from near places of worship, where the cops believe an organised begging mafia controls the operations. Madhavilata, in her 60s, says she has been outside the Saibaba temple for a year now, ever since she was discarded by her children. Some people were picked up by mistake. Like Pentaiah who claimed he had come from Suryapet district a few days for treatment at the hospital and when he was waiting outside the temple for free food, he was taken away by the police.
The police deny the drive is guided by Trump Junior's visit. They say it is a permanent effort to wean the beggars away from the practice while also going after the begging mafia that pushes the handicapped and children into the trade.
The problem is there is no record of the number of beggars in Hyderabad. Different surveys have thrown up varying numbers. From 1,500 to 5,000 to even 14,000. At a seminar in June 2016, NGOs estimated Hyderabad is home to 14,000 beggars and with each of them earning about Rs 300 in a day, the business turnover is over Rs 150 crore in a year.
"I would say there would be 500 real beggars. By real, I mean those who are destitute suffering from some disease and unable to work for a living," says Singh. The others are being given the option of undergoing skill development classes at the prison premises and working at the petrol bunks where the workforce is provided by the Telangana prison department.
Those who are classified as 'fake beggars' include those who had to leave their homes and fields in the districts due to poor irrigation facilities and crop failure. Social activists say when they are unable to find suitable work in the construction sector due to lack of skillsets, they turn to begging for a living.
Social activists working on removing beggars from Hyderabad say this cannot be a short-term measure simply because a foreign dignitary is visiting. "We call ourselves a smart city, what kind of a smart city is it when the begging mafia feeds intoxicants to infants for women to carry while they beg. It is a horrible sight," says G Ramaiah of the Federation of NGOs for a Beggar-free society.
The administration estimates that because of the crackdown, many beggars have moved out of Hyderabad into other cities like Vijayawada and Nagpur. They say they would need to ensure that they do not return after the ban period is over on 7 January.
Updated Date: Nov 10, 2017 16:56 PM