BEGGAR HOME AT BANGALORE : LESSONS FOR GOVERNANCE
A few months ago media was going berserk over the deaths of many inmates of a beggar home in Bangalore. Many viewer responses were SMSâ€™ed to TV screens were to the effect: How can an IT super city allow this to happen? Govt. and politicians were once again came under public â€œwhippingâ€.
Yes it is sad when people die. Death of poor people in India gets buried under gross statistics. Hunger of poor people gets lost in public debates by well fed Indians. Discussions over food security bill make a sad reading. Passed, in whatever form, it is likely to get buried under the dreary deserts of our public administration.
Why? Are our administrators by their very nature, callous, heartless thieves? Incapable, incompetent idiots?
I am not going to pass a jugdement. But I am going to analyze the issues concerning the Bangalore Beggar Home and raise some questions which were not raised in the reams of newspaper columns or in TV bytes. You can then come to your own conclusions.
First and foremost whatever happened of the Bangalore Beggar Home? It very much exists and being run or not run in the same old ways. What about enquiries? Files have a unique speed. No doubt the cases will be examined and kept hanging for years.
What about the great public (middle class) indignation? All gone and shifted to Common Wealth Games (CWG), Vedanta, Posco clearances to Adarsh Housing and now taken over Obama visit. Now 2Gâ€¦ Waiting to shift somewhere elseâ€¦. The sad fact for our governance is the gullible middle class memory. Middle class finds great entertainment in the high moral frenzy exhibited by media.
Solve all Indiaâ€™s problems through e-mails, SMSâ€™s, TV debates (with millions of zombies watching and texting), great scholarly columns in newspapersâ€¦. This has become the pattern over the past two decades especiallyâ€¦ Just because more channels are available. In good old decades before, such a process was done through gossips in office, homes and social functions.
The tone of every critic or speaker is to take a high moral ground. How can even one beggar die of hunger? Hang all of them responsible for it!
Let us look at the root causes of the Bangalore Beggar Home. Several years ago some well intentioned persons decided to keep Bangalore a presentable city and keep the beggar menace awayâ€¦ Beggars are a national a shame; also bad examples of lazy living. At least let us keep the garden city away from the menace. So they get an Act passed. Begging in Bangalore is a crime. Persons who beg can be punished by law. So an aesthetic value or a moral indignation against begging is given a legal tooth.
When we (my wife and I) moved to Bengaluru last November to stay in our only home, NALANDA, one old person, familiar to me, during a conversation was telling so many wrong and cruel things what â€œpowerful personsâ€ do in Bengaluru. This is a great Indian pastime from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Nagaland to Rajasthan! I told him why donâ€™t you talk about it openly or write about it. His response was â€œSir! I could be caught any time and put into a beggarâ€™s home, as I look frail and am with ordinary clothes!â€â€¦ It looked like a joke then, as the conversation drifted somewhere else as it happens with many such conversations!
I realized the significance of what he said when the Bangalore Beggar home stories broke out in press. One article had traced well the anti â€“ beggar act, the establishment of beggar home etc. The power of the State being given so easily to govt. easily through Acts which stand on moral grounds, have corrupted the law enforcement agencies. Fringe elements in them can use the same laws to trouble innocent people, even while the law concerned solves no problems!
Can any one of you say boldly that there are no beggars in Bengaluru?
It is our hoary tradition that every holy place (of all religions in India) is full of beggars. People give alms and feel relieved that they have done some punya. Gurudwaras are usually an exception because there is a long tradition of langar â€“ any one can come and eat food in the mornings, afternoon and evenings. No body needs to be hungry. Hundreds of poor in the local areas can live on it for days together. But most other places, it is different.
Let us also look at the root causes of begging. A part from a tradition that does not look at it as demeaning, there is a large number of poor Indians. The vagaries of the weather makes them lose them meager incomes. (Shame to the Indian economists, scientists, technologists, policy makers and administrators who run the country â€“ there are workable solution needing no new research and are being implemented by many countries). Also serious health problems to an earning member of poor family can knock them out of even subsistence levels.
Thanks to the Indian democracy, they can move out in search of some wage earnings. When they donâ€™t get earning they beg too. Of course, there are some who have made begging a profession. I have seen organized begging in Bombay during the late 1950â€™s and 1960â€™s when I was going to school and college.
But when economic opportunities are available to people to earn a reasonable income, most people will avoid begging. Till then the society and the state has no right to penalize begging. If you arrest a few of them and put them in a beggar home, then another flock of people will come from different parts of Karnataka and the neighboring states. Is there a way to stop them? Except by cruel means!
Coming back to running of a beggar home by Govts, during an initial hype land is acquired, nice buildings are built (some times even without corruption involved in such construction!). Then the impulse subsides. No funds are given for maintenance which comes under the govt. budgets called non â€“ plan. Economists will like to keep the non â€“ plan component of the govt. expenditure down to the minimum and increase the plan component which is for development â€“ that is new projects aimed at new growth or societal good areas.
Therefore most govt. organizations or projects after the initial establishment, are left out as part starving orphans. That is why many roads are in disrepair. Many school sufferâ€¦ This is the basic reasons.. Of course over the past several decades, building upon the theme of scarce non â€“ plan funds, corrupt elements have crept in. Leave every thing unattended till they become a crisis. Even the available meager non â€“ plan funds need not be spent efficiently or if possible extract some â€œcorruption moneyâ€ out of those purchases or contracts as well.
This has become the pattern.
So we transition very soon from a moralistic law to corrupt beggar home.
Look at so many things around your area built on the premise of high moral ground with the power of law: Pollution control agencies, sections dealing with anti â€“ dowry in govt;. you can count them yourselves.
Lessons in governance I have derived during the past few decades specially is that we have to knock out all the unrealistic laws and the resulting empowerment of the State and its enforcing officials. Let us have only such laws which can be compatible with our society and which can be implemented fully. For higher moral principles, let govt. projects or philanthropic projects be undertaken without the power of law but using the power of emulation.
One crucial governance issue before the nation is to creatie opportunities for productive employment and income generation for the millions of poor and also preparing them in advance with necessary skills. This has to be a continual process.
Are we ready? Especially the now powerful and vocal middle class? Or should we be inventing or discovering a Satan every week for national flogging through media?