Sunday, June 26

Tk 14cr project falls flat

Making Dhaka free from beggars

News Desk: The government project of making Dhaka beggar and vagabond-free costing Tk. 14 crore has failed and the beggars, who were rehabilitated at Mymensing and Jamalpur, have returned to their old ways of begging in the capital.

In 2010, the social welfare ministry undertook the initiative to rehabilitate beggars and vagabonds and provide them work options as well.

A survey was conducted among thousands of beggars and vagabonds at 10 zones of the Dhaka City Corporation. Of them, the government decided to rehabilitate 2,000 beggars in their own districts.

According to the survey, most of the beggars and vagabonds came from Mymensing, Jamalpur, Dhaka and Barishal districts.

“The government provided rickshaws, vans and some small capital among 37 beggars to test how it worked to minimise the problem. But, as the recipients had no permanent place to live in, they returned to their old profession of begging,” said Nurul Kabir Siddiqi, project director, Rehabilitation and Alternative Employment of the People Engaged in Begging, and joint secretary, social welfare ministry.

Learning a lesson from the pilot project in Mymensing district, the officials amended the outline of the programme and locally rehabilitated 29 beggars, by providing rickshaw, van and small capital to trade in their respective areas. Only a few of the beneficiaries took advantage of the project, but most went back to begging, say project officials.

Earlier, social welfare ministry, secretary, Nasima Begum, said, “The government has taken the initiative to make the capital beggar and vagabond-free. Seven areas have been selected for the purpose. We’d hold mobile court in those areas. The matter has been informed to the cabinet division and we are awaiting instruction. Begging has to be stopped in the capital for successful rehabilitation of beggars.”

On December 30, 2012, the National Steering Committee on Beggars and Vagabonds, at its 13th meeting and later on 22 January, 2013, the inter ministerial meeting presided over by state minister for social welfare ministry, decided in principle that the Shahjalal Airport area, Hotel Sonargaon, Hotel Ruposhi Bangla, Hotel Radisson, Bailey Road, and the Diplomatic Zone, would be made beggar-free. The meeting also decided to conduct mobile courts in this context.

According to the project director, as the issue of mobile courts to free the capital of beggars is highly sensitive, the national steering committee, on September 17, 2013, decided to take approval from the cabinet division.

According to the project director, permission was sought from the cabinet division to conduct mobile courts to drive out the beggars, but those rehabilitated in Mymensing returned to the capital and started begging again.

“If the capital cannot be made beggar-free, the project will not succeed anywhere else, which is why we have decided to make Dhaka beggar-free first,” the project director said.

The country has six centres to rehabilitate the shelter-less and beggars and the main centre is at Mirpur in the city. According to the social welfare minister, Syed Mohsin Ali yesterday, the government will take the beggars to these centres, just after the government offices open.
“We will send the genuine beggars to the rehabilitation centres thereafter, and provide land to those who want to return home. We have made adequate arrangements for rehabilitating the beggars,” the minister claimed.

“As the offices are now closed due to Eid vacation, we will round up the beggars after the government offices open, and conduct mobile courts to do so. Begging would not be allowed in the capital,” he had said, after an inter-ministerial meeting at the secretariat, on the beggars’ rehabilitation project on July 22, which was taken up in 2010, at a cost of Tk. 14 crore.

According to the social welfare ministry, there are around 50,000 beggars in the city and an additional 20,000 beggars come from different parts of the country during Eid.

According to the minister, all preparations were complete to launch the mobile courts, which would operate in areas already declared as beggar-free zone. “The government will advertise through the print media and use loud speakers before rounding up the beggars,” he added.

“We shall take the beggars to the shelters and rehabilitation centres first, but if they again start begging, we shall take legal action against them,” Mohsin cautioned.

The beggars disturb foreigners, tourists and diplomats in the city and also harass pedestrians and commuters at bus stands, railway stations, markets and traffic signals. Some, mainly poor children, are forced to beg after they are physically deformed to draw people’s sympathy.

According to ministry officials, the country has over 14 lakh beggars and vagabonds, of which, 12 lakh live in the capital alone.

According to a survey in 2000, the number of beggars stood at only five lakh. Another survey conducted by a non-government organisation states that most of the beggars in Dhaka are not ‘genuine’ beggars. They resorted to begging to dodge work, leading to multiple social problems.