Six years ago, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court directed that the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Begging Act of 1945 be enforced in Madurai immediately. Its implementation has at best been patchy.
Madurai is a preferred spot for beggars since it has multiple temples, including the famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple where annadanam is provided daily.
A recent survey by the social welfare department found that many elderly people from nearby villages park themselves in their chosen slots near the temple at morning each day with unerring regularity to seek alms, take a break and return in the evening. “Most of them were forced into beggary because their children didn’t take care of them and refused to provide food,” said a social welfare officer on condition of anonymity.
Besides, some pilgrims from North India abandon their elders near the Madurai railway station or the temple, the officer informed.
Though, the law mandates the government to ensure the prevention and rehabilitation of beggars, officials were not pursuing it in right earnest, complained advocate D Muruganantham, who filed the writ petition based on which the HC issued directions.
The police and revenue officials initially showed enthusiasm to implement the Act.
“But now if you visit any part of the town, you will find beggars,” he lamented. Recalling the incidents that prompted him to file the PIL, Muruganantham said, “When I was returning home from the Tamil Nadu sport stadium after a morning workout, I found a group of women with babies in their arms, emerging from the new market.” Curiosity impelled him to follow them. He was shocked to find that they were using the babies as a prop.
“Next day, when I went to the same the spot, I found a group of men giving directions to the women. I also saw the women administering some drug to the babies. I later learnt that the drug was meant to keep the babies in a semi-conscious state till evening,” he said.
Former collector U Sagayam and former city police commissioner P Kannappan were keen to eradicate beggary in Madurai. They rescued hundreds of beggars and sent them to the rehabilitation homes.
“After we produced them in court, doctors of the GRH provided treated them. Some of them were sent to the GMH in Kilpauk,” official sources said. After the change of guard, the anti-beggary drive flagged.