Samrat runs a successful small business in a street in Mumbaï, the economic capital of India. His tobacco stall draws a constant stream of smokers and “paan” ( betel leaves chew) lovers. But that’s not all. A large chunk of his profit come from an arrangement he has with some beggars from the neighbourhood. They hand over all their earnings to him for safekeeping; he earns the interest but ensures their money is protected. “These beggars sleep near my shop. They hand over between Rs 200 and Rs 400 per day. Since I can’t keep all the money at my house or shop, I’ve started putting it in fixed deposits. Whenever they ask for it, I give it.” he says.
The transactions are sizeable considering the shopkeeper deposits over Rs 900.000 ( 13.000 euros, US$ 16.000) a year from the funds accumulated by the 13 beggars under his charge. ” I earn a lot of interest but whenever any of them requires money to send home or to visit their native place, I’m prompt with the payment” says Samrat. The beggars need to protect their earnings from petty thugs and cops patrolling the streets. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement though the shopkeeper does try to put an altruistic spin on the deal by saying “They are socially ostracized, I think it’s my duty to take care of their earnings.”
In the surroundings, many small businesses are known to maintain such arrangements. The benefits go far beyond the mere earnings on deposits. A steady supply of loose change, for example, is among the perquisites. Amir has been managing funds for about 10 beggars for the last 8 years. To those who bring around Rs 500, he gives a meal of pulse-rice. The experienced ones earn as much as Rs 70.000 a year despite a couple of long holidays. Except a small portion of the funds set aside for daily needs like tea, cigarettes or alcohol, all the money is deposited in the bank. “Sometimes they get smart by saying they had given me more money, but we maintain an account book.” says Amir.
Tea stall owners, cigarettes and “paan” shops, newspaper vendors and restaurants also get the beggars they deal with to spend their nights outside their shops. This is to ensure a certain level of security. “We don’t need a watchman or security guard. Besides, they keep the area clean and are early risers”, says a restaurant owner.