Come Ramazan and almost every traffic junction, parking lot and main road in the city sees an influx of beggars making stirring requests for charity. The seasonal occurrence continues despite an on-going crackdown by the authorities, begging the question: what are the city district government, the traffic and city police officials tasked with clamping down on the practice up to?
Requesting anonymity, a city government official says these are mostly ‘seasonal’ beggars trying to cash in on the spirit of piety and charity associated with the holy month of Ramazan. Many of them travel from smaller towns in droves and arrive in Lahore days before the advent of Ramazan, he says. Many of them are children between the ages of five and 12, and women carrying mewling infants.
Ten-year-old Subhan can be seen begging on Maulana Shaukat Ali Road during the day. He says that his mother had died and his father would beat him up every day so he had run away from home and was now living near Data Darbar. “I couldn’t get a job so I started begging.”
Subhan’s tale is similar to that of a woman with a toddler clinging to her while she begs for alms near Barkat Markat. She says that her husband had passed away leaving her to fend for herself and her child. “Begging for money is the only option I have.”
An official from the city government’s monitoring unit says it is true that the number of beggars in the city has increased during Ramazan. “The government is preoccupied with Ramazan Bazaars and has placed this issue on the back burner.”
Personal Staff Officer to the DCO Tariq Zaman, however, says that is not true. “Town municipalities are not part of teams responsible for the crackdown on beggars. That is the job of the Social Welfare Department and Civil Defence.”
While Zaman admits that there has been an influx of beggars from small towns and villages, he insists that the crackdown has not stopped. The city government nabbed 245 men and 192 women beggars between January and June this year, he says. “We launched a massive crackdown against beggary in the last 14 days of Ramazan… The operation is ongoing and no one will be able to spot beggars in the city after that.”
Police on alert
City and traffic police say they have launched crackdowns against beggars on The Mall, Anarkali, Ravi Road, Lorry Adda, Canal Road, Saddar, Gulberg, Bhaikowal, Mozang, Akbar Chowk, Kot Lakhpat, College Road and Ghazi Road.
Chief Traffic Officer Tayyab Hafeez Cheema said DSPs and traffic sector in-charges had been ordered to apprehend beggars. “Not only are beggars a social menace, but they also cause disturbance in smooth flow of traffic.”
He said traffic wardens found negligent in performing this assigned task would be punished. He said the traffic police had arrested 179 beggars in the past six months.
PRO to CTO Ali Nawaz said among those arrested were 118 women and children who had been handed over to the Child Protection Bureau. FIRs had been registered against 52 men beggars under Section 7 of the Punjab Vagrancy Ordinance, 1958. Section 7 of the ordinance allows policemen to arrest and search anyone who looks like a beggar, without an order from a magistrate or warrants.
City police officials say they have arrested 25 beggars as part of a crackdown with the city government in the month of Ramazan so far.
On public transport
Despite strict orders to the contrary, bus conductors and drivers of Lahore Transport Buses allow beggars and vendors to enter the vehicles where they pester commuters for alms, several daily commuters have said.
When LTC’s complaint cell was contacted by The Express Tribune, Shah Muhammad, who records complaints, insists that under the Punjab Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1965, this is not allowed on LTC buses. “Anyone who sees beggars or vendors on our buses should call the complaint line and put us on the phone with the bus conductor.”
LTC’s PRO Nasir Hussain says, “Our enforcement wing keeps a watch and stops beggars from entering our buses.”
When asked what action is taken against the beggars, Hussain says they are asked to leave the bus. “There are two kinds of routes for our buses: sub-urban and urban. Beggars and vendors usually operate on sub-urban routes since commuters on those buses don’t complain too much about them.”
The ordinance says those arrested can be released if they furnish bail before a magistrate who has jurisdiction in the area where the arrest was made. “If the person arrested cannot furnish bail to the satisfaction of the police officer making arrest, he/she will be detained in custody and be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of arrest,” the ordinance says.
Operations DIG Haider Ashraf says the police can only arrest and initiate legal action against professional beggars. “In most cases, however, beggars return to their turf and start begging after getting bail from courts or paying a fine imposed on them.”
He says rehabilitation efforts and proper shelters where beggars can be given vocational training are required to supplement the police’s efforts. “We do our part of the job quite efficiently.”
Zaman says there are three notified welfare homes for beggars – an Edhi Centre for men in Gulberg; an Edhi Centre for women in Green Town; and Subhani Centre for men and women.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.