Beggars at Traffic Signals: What to do?

We all keep noticing beggars in the cities we live in. We certainly see them often times at various traffic signals across city roads. Poverty is general is a problem in India since time innumerable. Many elections have been won by politicians promising eradication of poverty. But poverty seems to be staying. Of course, not every poor person is beggar. But beggars are certainly poor. By street side and even in trains, beggars are very common. Also common are beggars at the traffic signals on the city roads. They live on the footpath, under the shade of a tree or something. I see them all the time.

Like many, I go to work to Kharadi EON IT Park everyday and I see them at at least at 3-4 signals on the way. The moment traffic stops at these signals, beggars pop up from no where and they engulf you before you even realize. You see women, women with kids with them, kids themselves extending their arms helplessly, elderly men, many times disabled. And the sight is not pretty at all. At times, you feel pity about them, and some other times your hands automatically reach out to your pockets for them. You also see many times transgenders as well walking around at traffic signals and their typical actions, they ask for money. If you pay them, you get good wishes, else you don’t! I have seen many beggars displaying their displeasure if they are denied their rightful(!) donation by spitting, by saying something, or even at times thumping on the bonnet of the car. In earlier days, beggars would be happy with coin changes, but it seems they don’t accept anything below Rs 10/- note. Not sure if these beggars have forgotten that beggars cannot be choosers! These street-side families employing their young children in begging activities, is in fact, illegal and against human rights. But who cares about rights when you are not sure of what you are going to have for dinner for 10-12 members in the family? Even the traffic police at the these signals ignore them-understandably so they see them every day and all day. Sometimes, you wonder if this has become their business. We know that this concept made very famous by actor Annu Kapur in Hindi movie Gardish couple of decades ago. Depicting beggars in movies, cartoons, is also very common.

You wonder, at times, if you are not busy on a call while driving, or don’t want to divert your attention from jokes that radio jockey(RJ) on radio in your car is cracking, as to how they beggars land in to situation where they forced to get to streets for their daily bread, and most of the times their entire family? We keep hearing farmers committing suicides, many times, when their life is ruined by drought or other reasons. The ones who don’t, you wonder if they get into such terminal situation. I being associated with mental health awareness since last many years, I also know that many of these beggars are suffering from various mental health issues. I know one NGO who works for such street-side people who are severely suffering from such problems, who are abandoned, who are lying on the footpath, surviving somehow with petty sums they get from the passers-by. I have written about that organization here in the past. I also know one of my friends running a education session for children on the street side. We also have seen photos of many organization distribute warm clothing etc to these people during winter seasons. This and donating them petty sums are are temporary solutions. You will find them there again at the same place at the same time. The real question is how to solve this forever?

I don’t have answer. We, as society need to think about it. Our Prime Minister has started monthly radio program called Man Ki Baat(मन की बात). May be putting this problem across him and drawing some attention would help. Organization can help in rehabilitating these people who can be still employable, provided their mental health is fine. I being in information technology field, I can think of a brainstorming hackathon for solving this problem, may be of help. Can this be made part of smart city agenda, by the way? We need to think on how to make them part of the society by having them employable and earn their own bread.

Many of us who entertain foreign visitors, and who go by these streets, we  are ashamed of beggars’ sight when we walk or drive on those roads. I also have seen many times, in the foreign countries, homeless people, standing by traffic signals, with board/placard seeking help. The difference is only in the style, and intensity of the problem. But the problems are everywhere. There is a saying in English which says, a country can be understood by people at traffic signals.

Anyways, what do you think? How to change this?

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My take on smart city idea

Since the time when government of India announced the smart cities mission, everyone wants to jump the bandwagon. And why not so? There is a huge money involved in it for infrastructure companies to loose the train. People are interested and excited about it as it is directly concerning them. The government has created a website about the mission which is worth a look. The government has already short listed 100 cities/towns all across India for this initiative, in one of the most ambitious projects after golden quadrangle road infrastructure project.

There are many definitions of concept of smart city. To me, it is very simple. Making our cities liveable. If you consider this definition, then this concept of smart cities is not new, at least in India. In the ancient times, India, had cities and city states, which were liveable and were planned with thought, taking care of needs of that age. One can trace out the efforts made by rulers and citizens for making cities livable. In the modern terms, livable cities means availability of clean water, clean rivers and lakes, clean air, clean and green surrounding, affordable housing, no traffic congestion, grounds to play for children, wide and good roads/walkways, eco-friendly, safe and secure. It is all about connected and intelligent infrastructure.

Couple of years back, I was consulting at an international water engineering company. We developed software solutions for smart waster water management, water management, smart energy management, smart traffic management. Even the management of sludge is also part of these systems. We also need effective means of checking pollution of rivers by industries, factories and builders. Water utilities and energy utilities are trying to find smart ways to identify problem areas before they occur using various techniques such as analyzing social media, using telemetry sensors. They employ predictive analytics strategies to fix problems before they occur. There other very basic items which can be solved without involving these hi-tech stuff. For instance, take example of road digging. How many time we have noticed these in cities when road was re-surfaced 2 days ago, and we see someone from telephone or utilities department digging it for some reason. The key is here is smart co-ordination between various organizations in the local government. All you need is integrated systems and little thought before action. And how about traffic management? We face this day in and day out. We are forced to create green channels for ambulances speeding towards hospitals, in cases of emergencies. How can we better this? The system also should be such that it is efficient, and also prevents corruption. During my stay in Bay Area in USA few years back, I had experienced system in traffic police when they catch, there no exchange of money on the road, but the incident is reported against your driving license. And you need to pay directly to concerned authorities directly. This was best way of reducing the corruption. This was possible only due to the computerized system in which, the driving license get suspended if fine is not paid.

These are all aspects of smart city concept. The integration, automation and intelligence is the key. The dawn of technologies such as Internet of Things(IoT) has big role to play. The movement to introduce metros, bus rapid transit(BRT) in many cities since last few years, is step towards smart traffic management. Collecting and using data for handling problems before they occur is another key(predictive analytics). Effective disaster prevention, management and recovery also needs to be taken care of. These days I am working for a disaster recovery company, but that is limited to enterprises. But the concepts can be applied to city infrastructure systems, from the perspective of being ready for disaster recovery.

I am sure smart cities as envisioned by government, would come true eventually. This certainly is possible with help of technology, political will-power and funds. The key is aspect is self-less vision/will-power of the government and political parties

To me, as we move towards smart cities, the most important aspect is attitude of people in the society. People live in cities(and of course, villages). Are we, the people, going to become smart as well? Here I mean, we need to become good citizens who obey law, aware of responsibilities along with rights, care for public property, cleanliness, responsible approach towards society and nature, discouraging corruption, courteous to others especially senior citizen, women, and most importantly respecting and valuing each one in the society. And government cannot change that, it is us who need to do that.

The thought such as design based culture is what we as a society need to aim for, beyond smart cities. This talks of a need of having first design, then order based on that and lastly a solid system which is modeled on the other two. While design should take care basic needs, the aesthetics is very important part of design. In the ancient age, India was known for its aesthetics sense, and it is quite evident from the rich heritage our ancestors have left behind for us. This sense of aesthetics needs to happen all levels. As somebody has said, if we want the our environment/society, something must change within first.

Hope with this Smart Cities Mission, we go from smart city to smart governance to smart citizen.

What do you think?