Beggary law in India – An analysis

Context

Delhi High Court decriminalized beggary by striking down certain sections of the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, as extended to Delhi.

Background

  • The act of begging is a crime in 20 states and two union territories of India. It is treated as cognizable and non-bailable offense.
  • Currently, there is no central law on begging & destitution and most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959

Fact sheets

  • India has 4,13,670 beggars in 2015 (Census 2011)
  • West Bengal has top the list of 81,000 beggars
  • Some studies indicate that 99 percent men and 97 percent women resort to beggary.
  • This number fell 41% since the last Census of 2001, which recorded the number of beggars at 6.3 lakh.

Problem Caused by Beggary

  • Economic Burden
  • Drug Abuse
  • Trafficking
  • Organized Crime
  • Child Related Crimes
  • Prostitution

Social Attitude towards beggar

  • Negative attitude because they are poor and lazy people and lives on the other sympathy.
  • They are treated as drug trafficker and child lifter etc.
  • It is believed that, beggars are obstacle to tourism and a scar on highly developed cities.
  • In rural areas they sometime treated as untouchables as well.

Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959

  • Its aim is to remove beggars from their current illegal profession so that they may be detained, trained and eventually employed elsewhere
  • The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 criminalizes begging. Beggars may be arrested without warrant
  • They can be sentenced to jail without trial or may be sent to shelter homes/certified institutions
  • The punishment tenure for beggary ranges from 3-10 years in jail
  • Court may order detention of persons wholly dependent on beggar
  • Penalty for employing or causing persons to beg or using them for purposes of begging
  • Provision for the teaching of agricultural, industrial and other pursuits, and for general education and medical care of the inmates of the Receiving Centres/Certified Institutions
  • Also, every person detained in certified institutions “shall at any time allow his finger prints to be taken”. This is violation of fundamental right
  • As per the act, if any beggar detained in a Certified Institution is found to be of unsound mind or a leper, s/he can be ordered to be removed to a mental hospital or leper asylum as per provisions of the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912 and of the Lepers Act, 1898

Issues with Act

  • Definition of begging under the act is vague. No distinction between Beggars and Homeless.
  • Harsher implication on beggary without any proper rehabilitation measures
  • It gives discretionary powers to thepolice to arrest.
  • Under Article 21 of the Constitution, every beggar or juvenile has a fundamental right to live. It is state responsibility to provide an alternative routes of earning for them
  • It also criminalizes people who make earning by singing, dancing etc.
  • It violates the right of children and contradicts the protective provision of juvenile Justice act
    • Juvenile justice act identifies child beggars as “children in need of care and protection” and provides for their rehabilitation and re-integration in the society
  • There is no rule regarding right to receive training and education
  • Issue with certified institution. Act gives Certified institutions absolute power over detainees, including the power of punishment, and the power to exact “manual work”

The person in destitution (protection, care and rehabilitation) model bill, 2016

  • It cover the rights of all destitute – homeless, persons with mental and physical disabilities, beggars, old and the infirm – who are above the age of 18
  • It decriminalized beggary except for repeat offences.
  • The bill also proposes to establish separate rehabilitation centers for women and differently abled destitute
  • Employing a child for begging will be a crime punishable under the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code.
  • States would have to establish rehabilitation centers
  • Provide vocational training or skill development
  • constitute a monitoring and advisory board to coordinate implementation of the schemes and advise the government on matters related to care, protection, welfare and rehabilitation of destitute
  • However this draft proposal is currently dropped by the government

Ram Lakhan v State (Case dealing with anti-Begging law)

  • In this case Hon’ble Court has critically analyzed every situation of a beggar from legal, social and ethical point of view
  • Contrary to Bombay act 1959, judgment has classified beggars into 4 categories viz; –
  • Down-right lazy who doesn’t want to work
  • Alcoholic or drug-addict
  • Forced by a ring leader of a beggary “gang”
  • Starving, hopeless and helpless
  • Judge says that people falling under 3rd and 4th category are doing the act under a necessity and thus those should not be convicted for the act which they are not performing voluntary.
  • The provision is also contrary to the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression (Art 19)

Delhi HC judgment

  • Delhi High Court decriminalized beggary by striking down certain sections of the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, as extended to Delhi
  • The order is the first in the country to strike down provisions of the 1959 Act.
  • Court held that Begging Act violated Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
  • Court also observes that under article 21 it is states responsibility to provide quality life to its citizen. State cannot penalize people for begging due to poverty
  • Various provision are struck down including those permitting the arrest without a warrant
  • The court has not struck down Section 11, which addresses forced begging or “begging rackets”
  • Critics argue that this judgment undo legacies of injustice and consider all individuals and communities as equal citizen

Best Practices

Odisha: The government of Odisha has adopted good measure to identify beggars provide them alternative remedy like Houses, Insurance coverage, Aadhar and Ration card, Healthcare facility, giving them training for vocational skills for wage or self-employment

Maharashtra – Few municipal corporations in Maharashtra including Pune Corporation had launched ‘beggar free city’ campaign.

Bihar- MukhyamantriBhikshavritiNivaranYojna to protect and promote the rights of beggars by ensuring their care, protection, development, socio-economic and cultural empowerment through enabling policies and programmes. MBNY is a Bihar state govt. scheme.

Way forward

  • A law is needed which respects the dignity of the destitute rather than penalizes them for being poor. The government must bring legislation to decriminalize beggary
  • Government should also adopt a proper mechanism for identification and rehabilitation of beggars
  • A follow up action should also be adopted for the beggars who are coming out of rehabilitation center to assist in any challenges faced by them in integrating with the mainstream society
  • Police should take action against the begging rackets
  • The government should engage different stakeholders such as NGOs working with street children, traffic policemen etc. to eradicate beggary especially child beggary
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