By Meghna Nair
The current union government is known for the various methods it incorporates to reach out to the general public. Even during the general elections of 2014, BJP proved its mettle in terms of campaigning and successfully garnering the attention of the masses.
The BJP-led NDA government has once again come into news with its latest idea of using beggars to promote various schemes launched by it. The new idea comes from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and aims at publicizing schemes such as Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao etc. through beggars.
According to a recent survey by Delhi School of Social Work, there are approximately 60,000 beggars in Delhi, whereas there are almost 300,000 in Mumbai according to a 2004 Action Aid report. A report by Beggar Research Institute states that there are nearly 75,000 beggars in Kolkata.
The number of beggars has been increasing since many years. The figures make it ostensible that Mumbai houses the most number of beggars.
Austerity measures after lavish expenditure on the Swachh Bharat?
As stated by a report published in the Mint, the government splurged approximately Rs 40 crores on advertising for the Swachh Bharat campaign. This strategy won’t cost half as much, considering the fact that most of these beggars actually do sing well.
The plan is to train 3000 beggars to sing informative and catchy songs to garner the attention of the masses. As a strategy, it seems to be a sound one, as no one has an easier approach to a huge number of people than a beggar.
The Song and Drama division of the ministry is going to spearhead the project, whereas All India Radio has been given the charge to train the beggars and render them as melodious singers attuned to songs about the government’s schemes.
The project is set to start in Mumbai first and the government plans to roll it out to other cities in a phased manner. Simultaneously, the government plans to seek the help of various NGOs in order to implement the project.
The beggars who will be roped in for the project will be given some remuneration in exchange of their services, and an official was quoted as saying that the government is set to draft the remuneration model for the project.
How will it impact the beggary?
According to reports, the government is also looking to use the training of beggars as a plausible livelihood option.
“Our field publicity reports show that the number of such beggars in the Mumbai’s suburban trains is high and that there are entire families singing and begging for money. Many of them are experienced singers. We are looking at this as a livelihood opportunity. This is a better way to use their abilities,” a government official was quoted as saying in the Economic Times.
Although the initiative of providing livelihood to the beggars is commendable, we cannot ignore the fact that some states condemn beggary and it is regarded as a punishable offence.
The introduction of Bombay Prevention of Begging Act of 1959 even includes “singing” and “dancing” in public places within the definitions of begging.
The law further states that the people caught indulging in beggary can be taken into custody and tried under the law.
In an attempt at probably providing a solution to the problem of beggary and poverty, the government might actually end up doing the opposite—encouraging beggary.
Because even if the government provides some incentives, the beggar will still do what he does best and feels most comfortable doing—he will beg!
This “initiative” by the government leaves some question marks. What about the laws which criminalize beggary? Does this move mean that the government is accepting and de-criminalizing beggary? Will it provide a long term solution to it?
The training that beggars will undergo during this initiative will hardly impart any useful skills that are beneficial in the long run. It cannot be considered as the guaranteed long-term livelihood source, which the government projects it as.