Delhi already has a posse of urban cowboys patrolling its streets to round up cattle — one of several measures imposed to sanitize the city before next year's Commonwealth Games. Now the capital's leaders have promised to eradicate the city's 60,000 beggars: a mission that experts fear will victimize the most vulnerable.

Pleading for alms may be an ancient spectacle in India, but the authorities have decided to banish the sight in Delhi by October 2010 as part of a vast clean-up operation designed to drag the city into the 21st century.

Mobile courts, in the backs of vans and operated by a police task force, are being introduced to speed up convictions for begging. Officials have suggested a biometric database to identify repeat offenders so that they can be locked up or expelled from the city. Bylaws allow beggars to be sent to a special home for a year. Habitual offenders can be jailed for ten.

Many beggars were expecting windfalls from the Games, the largest sporting event yet to be held in India. "More than 100,000 foreigners will be in the city," Vijay Babli, the leader of more than 1,200 beggar families living in New Delhi's Rohini's Lal Quarter, told the Hindustan Times. "Even if one beggar earns 150-200 rupees per day (about $3), you can understand the turnover for us."

Begging overlords have even set up a school where children are coached to ask in foreign languages. "Bright children are taught how to say phrases like, 'I am an orphan, I have not eaten for days, I am ill, have no money for medicine, please help me in the name of God,'" Raju Sansi, the head of the school, said.

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