Colombo beggars: Begging for a Solution | Daily News

Colombo beggars: Begging for a Solution


Waiting for the traffic light to change to green at D. S. Senanayake Junction in Borella, Kumari de Silva, ignored the beggar knocking on her car window. After a few knocks, realising that he was not getting any money from de Silva, the beggar launched into a tirade mouthing unsavoury language against the closed window of her vehicle. The incident is a common occurrence not just at this junction but at a number of other colour lights around Colombo, like the Lipton Circus, and along Dharmapala Mawatha.

Beggars no longer ‘beg’ for spare change or for some charity, they demand, and if one doesn’t oblige, like de Silva, then his or her wrath be upon you. Some enterprising ones sell incense sticks, but the unsuspecting drivers and passengers in vehicles stuck in traffic have no choice, they have to buy, if not, they are of course treated with a string of verbal abuse. The most vulnerable at these dreaded traffic lights are females in three wheelers, as they are exposed directly to the onslaught of dirty words spewed out by these individuals.

The city’s unwelcome inhabitants disappear on the arrival of a head of state, VVIPs or when Colombo hosts an international conference, only to reappear soon after.

A majority of motorists consider mendicants a nuisance and the individuals pose a danger to both the motorists and themselves. However, authorities responsible have no effective system to deal with the issue. The police at times take them to custody and produce them in courts, where they are set to a detention centre in Ridigama - a facility which is running at full capacity at present. However, most often the beggars are just chased from one location to the other, in an attempt to make it someone else’s problem.

“Many hang around traffic lights and harass motorists,” said Nilmini Wijeyweera, an attorney at law, who passes through D. S. Senanayake junction on her way to work every day.

“They weave between the lanes of traffic and knock on the windows of cars and ask for money. Sometimes these beggars abuse the motorists if they do not get money.”

She noted that serious accidents can happen when they walk from one vehicle to the other.

Beggars asking for money are often observed near the William Grinding Mills junction in Dehiwela, D. S. Senanayake Junction, Borella and Kelaniya traffic lights.

Some beggars have resorted to attacking commuters and passers by on the road, as Rangika Jayasinghe found out a month ago.

“Around 6.30 in the evening, I was walking with my friend towards cloths shop from Borella junction. We were standing near the junction to cross the road. Then a man approached us asking for money, when the people started crossing the road even I started walking without giving him a look.”

Jayasinghe realised that refusing to give the man some money was a mistake only seconds later. When she started crossing the road, the man hit her - on the back of her neck- with an iron rod. The blow was so hard that she fainted in the middle of the road. The culprit got away when people around shouted.

“My neck was swollen and I had to spend more than Rs. 5,000 on my medicines. I did not see the person properly as it was dark,” claims Jayasinghe, “It is very scary for girls to walk when these people loiter freely on the road. It is a threat to the lives of the public.”

A beggar family near Kingsley Road, was pushed to their plight due to his illness, claimed the father who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Begging inside buses and trains is a nuisance to travellers and often if the amount given is not enough for them, they scold you as well, R. Surangika said. Despite efforts taken by authorities to stop begging in buses and trains it continues unhindered.

Minister Champika Ranawaka recently revealed that there are over 500 beggars within Colombo city limits alone. However, the authorities responsible are yet to put together a proper system in place to address the issue. Numerous attempts to conduct surveys to understand the problem and devise solutions over the years have yielded no results. The problem passes from hand to hand, from Police to Courts to Department of Social Services to Megapolis Ministry, with no concrete solution at hand.

The responsibility of initiating action on the issue lies with the police, claims Social Services Ministry Secretary, Mahinda Seneviratne. The ministry will be able to take initiatives after Police produce them in the courts.

However, with no proper system to address the issue, police has stopped arresting beggars, as there is no place to send them.

“It is the responsibility of the police to produce these individuals in the courts but what is next?,” questioned Maradana Police OIC Sarath Perera adding that there is no established rehabilitation centre for beggars in or close to Colombo.

He also said that to his knowledge the Ridiyagama Detention Centre, is full and police cannot send them directly to the centre.

However, according to Department of Social Services Director, Y. P. P. Yasaratne, sending the individuals to Ridiyagama too is futile as they return to their familiar occupation at the same location after a few days.

The Ridiyagama Detention Centre which admits beggars and other individuals with no care takers following orders from the courts under the Vagrancy Ordinance from all over the country, is running at its full capacity with 600 residents at present. The facility is currently maintained by the Southern Provincial Council.

However, the facility is undergoing development to accommodate more, Southern Provincial Council, Commissioner Mahesh Karunanayake said.

The centre has no rehabilitation or skills development programmes for the people, with only the meals being provided for by the Provincial Council.

According to Karunanayake as there are people from all over the island, the Southern Provincial Council cannot take the sole responsibility of the problem and claimed that it should be National level ministries who should take responsibility.

Hoping to address the situation the Department of Social Services is involved with the Megapolis Ministry to conduct a research to gain more information about the beggar community, Yasarathne said. 


Add new comment