MADURAI: Madurai district administration's award of appreciation given to an alms seeker who donated Rs 90,000 to Chief Minister's Corona Relief Fund has created controversy among the social activists working for the welfare of destitute people in the district.
On occasion of 74th Independence Day fete, Madurai district administration recognised an abandoned sexagenarian who seeks alms for living, one Pool Pandian, with District Collector's Award of Appreciation for donating Rs 90,000 for CM's Corona Relief Fund, while also recognising the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that works towards 'Beggar free Madurai' with the same award.
On 26, March 2007, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court passed the order to strictly implement the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Begging Act, 1945. Thirteen years after the order, 352 destitute individuals were rescued from Madurai streets by the volunteers of city based NGOs Idhayam Trust and Boom Welfare Community following the COVID-19 induced lockdown announced in March end.
Setting up three government camps, they were accommodated for 75 days. "The lockdown was helpful to rehabilitate many at these camps to abstain from begging," said the volunteers. The NGOs also made efforts to reunite many with their families, accommodating the abandoned in government Homes and finding employment opportunities for others.
The Thoothukudi-based sexagenarian, Pool Pandian, being one of the 352, made his first contribution of Rs 10,000 to CM's Corona Relief Fund at Madurai Collectorate on May 18, a day after he left the camp. Having gained a wide range of media attention, many appreciated the act on humanitarian grounds saying, "even if he begged, he donated it for a good cause." However, it also drew criticisms.
Pandiyan said that he earned the money through soliciting alms in Mattuthavani markets during the lockdown period. However, Director of the NGO Idhayam Trust, GR Sivakumar begs to differ. He told TNIE, "Pandian was accommodated at a government camp from April 1 to May 18. We made efforts to accommodate him permanently at a government home but he promised to leave home from the camp and abstain from begging. However, the next dayz donating Rs 10,000 at Collectorate, he said that he was begging in the market area during the lockdown. All our efforts to rehabilitate him to abstain from begging went in veins."
Pandian made eight more visits to the Collectorate since May 18 and had donated Rs 90,000 so far. "In roughly 92 days, he had earned '90,000 barring his personal expenses. This had encouraged many, who were already rehabilitated, to pick begging as a profession for personal gains," said Sivakumar. He also added that amid the prevailing pandemic situation, such acts could further spread the virus if the person was a potential carrier.
Thanking Collector TG Vinay for recognising him as a 'social servicer', Pandian said, "Earlier, I was donating the money to government schools to improve the infrastructure. As the pandemic outbreak holds more importance now, I am donating it to a relief fund."
Responding to the criticisms, Collector TG Vinay said that the award was given based on humanitarian grounds. "It had encouraged many to donate for the CM's COVID Relief Fund. Meanwhile, we have also insisted him to give up begging and stay at a government home," the collector said.
What does Tamil Nadu Prevention of Begging Act, 1945 say?
When a person is found begging, the law permits the police to arrest such alms seekers without any warrant and produce them at the nearest Magistrate within 24 hours. When the person is convicted for a second or subsequent time, the law allows the Magistrate to order a detention in a work-house or special home for not less than three years and not more than ten years and may convert any period of such detention not exceeding two years into a sentence of imprisonment.