What will happen if we give street sweeping jobs to beggars in India?

What will happen if we give street sweeping jobs to beggars in India? by @palkeshasawa

Answer by Palkesh Asawa:

This is what you’re suggesting…

It definitely looks like a brilliant idea, but there’s a catch.

You are not asking the correct question. If we give the sweeping jobs to beggars, it will be awesome, but the correct question is – can we do it?

Let’s see.

#1] Sweepers don’t earn enough either

At a most basic level, beggars will want to clean the streets if they can earn more than their current income.

How much does a street sweeper earn in one month? In Bangalore, the answer is around ₹ 6500 per month in 2015[1]. In Mumbai, the estimate was about ₹ 4000–5000 in 2011[2]. In Uttar Pradesh, they were offering ₹ 17000 in 2017, for which even MBA and other graduates showed up to clean the streets![3]

Considering the above numbers, a national average of ₹ 6000–12000 per month is logical. Which means a street sweeper earns about ₹ 200–400 per day.

Do beggars already earn so much? Consider the following factors:

  1. In the begging profession, the entire family (including little children) can beg. Which means that a single individual in a family of 4 will have to earn about ₹ 100 per day to match the family income of a street sweeper.
  2. Beggars usually do not incur a lot of costs. They don’t pay for rent or even food (sometimes, they get food in exchange for begging), thereby bringing down their expenses.
  3. If there is still some gap remaining between a beggar’s and a sweeper’s earning, perhaps that can be called the price of laziness. I mean, beggars don’t really have to work as much as a sweeper.
  4. Finally, if many beggars start to show up for cleaning the roads, the salary for sweepers will further go down. It’s basic economics.

Note that I am not being insensitive. I am just saying that beggars earn almost as much as sweepers, hence they don’t have a lot of monetary incentive to switch.

So why would a beggar want to switch to cleaning?

#2] The begging scam (or mafia)

Many reports say that there are begging mafias in India that encourage people to beg, and in return pay them meager amounts to live their lives. Following are the things we know about such begging mafias:

  • Abducted children are forced to beg through cartels[4]
  • Their limbs are amputated illegally to attract sympathy[5]
  • The actual actors don’t get most of the share from the loot[6]

I don’t know how much of this is true. We obviously cannot claim that all beggars are part of a larger scam (this report says a lot of beggars are genuine too). However, the above articles can help us conclude that –

They don’t beg by choice, they are forced into it.

In the first part, we concluded that even if they had the choice, they will not want to switch from begging to cleaning because cleaners don’t earn a lot anyway. However, here I am saying that they don’t have the choice.

They are forced into begging, and so you cannot just “convince” them to leave it and start cleaning the streets.

So how do we deal with this mess?

#3] Laws against begging are not effective

In the previous section, we saw that forcing people to beg is a bigger issue, and that is the issue we must address if we want to use these beggars for something good.

What has the government done to prevent this? They have criminalised the begging in India. That’s correct, did you know that begging is illegal in India?

The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act[7] says that –

  1. The police can arrest any beggars and if proved that they are “begging”, they can be “punished” for 1 to 3 years.
  2. Begging would include any solicitation of alms, whether under the pretense of singing, dancing, story telling or street performing[8]
  3. The beggars will be sent to “Beggar Homes” where they will be provided free food and shelter. This is done through established reception centres.

(Note: this law applies to most states in India)

One would assume that if the beggars could be captured anytime by the police, the mafia should be scared right? But this is what happened –

The beggar homes are hardly used in India because the police does not arrest any such beggars in the first place! See – Beggars' Home begs for attention – Times of India. The last time these beggar homes suddenly saw activity was during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

What is happening? Why is the law not working?

  • Most logical answer is that the police are involved in the begging mafia. This is just my guess, and I could not find any relevant reports that support this claim. But I think it’s possible.
  • On the other hand, many people want to be arrested under this law just because they get free food. It is possible that the government simply does not want to afford that kind of expenditure. See – A king-size life in Delhi’s beggar home.

This law was enacted to discourage begging mafias, but turns out that not only did that not happen, but many people who could have thought about genuinely working for money are now using this law to get themselves arrested and eat food for free. Hence, the government was talking about changing this law.[9]

Such a disappointment!

#4] Can we afford to pay so many beggars anyway?

The bigger question, on top of what we have all discussed here, is that the government simply does not have the money to deal with so much mess.

Consider some numbers[10]

  • There are about 400,000 beggars in India as per 2011 census
  • However, there are almost 73 crore (730 million) Indians who are not actively involved in any economic value addition

Even if you exclude children and some aged people, there are still a whopping number of Indians who have no great work to do. If we really have a lot of work, why are we not giving it to those people who are already qualified and seek work?

You see, giving the street cleaning work to beggars should only be considered after we have already given work to people who actively seek work but are not getting it.

And oh, two more things –

  1. Do we have the money? The government allotted ₹ 48,000 Crores (7 billion USD) to MNREGA scheme (which pays people in return of some arbitrary jobs) in this year’s budget, that too when it’s effectiveness is being questioned. Does it make sense to just pay people randomly?[11]
  2. If we really want the streets clean, what are the existing sweepers doing? Will they be happy when more beggars are brought in to compete with them? Or will they start protesting like they do a lot these days.[12]

Begging in India is a huge problem, and it cannot be solved so simply by just enacting some laws and paying some money. The problem is deep rooted and severe

As per this report by Anti-Slavery organisation –

  • Deep-rooted poverty and lack of opportunity is the major reason why so many people resort to begging. Note: lack of opportunity.
  • Many beggars migrate from other places to areas where they think they might earn more.
  • Lack of access to education prevents them from ever coming out of this vicious circle. Those in poverty are sucked into it even more until they are rescued using external influence. There is no other way.
  • Most people simply give alms to beggars and consider their part done. This public sympathy (actually, indifference, if you look carefully) is a major support to the begging mafia.

You ask if it’s a good idea to give sweeping jobs to beggars. We have seen why it is going to be extremely difficult to implement that in our country.

But let me not disappoint you.

Let me add my two cents on what we can really do (or are already doing):

Framework to eliminate poverty/begging from India

  1. There are simply too many people. India’s population is huge. Anybody who claims that India is not doing enough for it’s people should try and run a country with more than 1 billion people, all of whom are empowered by democracy and thus the government cannot take very tough stands.
  2. On top of this, we are not skilled to do the jobs that are in demand. So we cannot put these people to any work because they are not capable of doing that work in the first place. It is necessary to train them first.
  3. This is all just compounded by the fact that there are not enough jobs also. I mean, for a country like India, we could have an ocean of jobs and there will still be people who need more work. We need a lot of investment and development to solve this problem.

This means that we need to focus on –

  • Population Control
  • Skill Development Programs
  • Infrastructure/Jobs/Investments

The government is focusing on these areas already. If you want to know more about what the government is already doing, you can check out the links below:

  1. Measures taken to control population growth in Indiaread here
  2. Skill Development and Entrepreneurshipread here
  3. Initiatives to attract investment and spur growthread here

Look, I understand.

It is really frustrating to see so many people begging in India. Perhaps we are not doing as much as we can for them. It is also a noble thought to think of such innovative ideas to solve problems. But we all need to be patient.

It would perhaps make you happy to know that the number of beggars in India has reduced by almost 41% over the last 10 years. [13]

We are moving towards it. Just be patient, and contribute as much as you can.

And by the way, in case you always thought about it but never understood why, read this – Why can’t the governments just print more money to end poverty?

To read more such answers on economics, follow The Economics Blog on Quora or even better, follow me!


[1] Clean-cut demand: Salaries on time for sweepers – Times of India

[2] Mumbai sweepers get Rs26k salary — on paper only | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis

[3] 17000 MBAs, B Techs apply for 114 sweeper jobs in UP

[4] 3,00,000 children across India are forced to beg by cartels: Report  | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis

[5] Indian doctors accused in 'arms-for-alms' scandal

[6] Here's Why You Shouldn't Give Money to Beggars in India

[7] The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959

[8] Move in favour of beggars, law that penalises soon to be abolished

[9] Centre drafts Bill to decriminalise beggary

[10] Population statistics of India's beggars:25% of beggars in India are Muslim | India Live Today

[11] http://www.effective-states.org/…

[12] Now, sweepers to protest against govt

[13] India shows decline of 41 % in beggars – Telangana English

What will happen if we give street sweeping jobs to beggars in India?

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