Begging for change: Anti Beggary laws in India

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To begin with, let us first understand what constitutes the meaning of the word “Begging”. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act of 1959 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) has defined the term “Begging” in Section 2 of the Act as”

  1. Soliciting or receiving alms, in a public place whether or not under any pretence such as singing, dancing, fortune telling, performing or offering any article for sale;
  2. Entering on any private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms;
  3. Exposing or exhibiting, with the object of obtaining or extorting alms, any sore, wound injury, deformity of diseases whether of a human being or animal;
  4. Having no visible means of subsistence and wandering, about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner, as makes it likely that the person doing so exist soliciting or receiving alms;
  5. Allowing oneself to be used as an exhibit for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms;

Anti-beggary laws are mostly based on the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 which criminalizes the act of begging and any person found involved in it can be arrested without warrant.

“With a large number of destitute in the country, the economy has to bear a huge load with very small or no contribution to the gross domestic product and it leads to wastage of human potential.
Apart from economic burden, beggary causes other social problems such as drug abuse, trafficking, organised crime, child-related crimes etc. Therefore it needs redress both by the government and civil society through concerted efforts to arrest potential criminal activities like organised begging, trafficking of drugs etc

Under the new scheme, government would provide financial assistance to rehabilitation centres run directly by states and Union Territories which will ensure that basic amenities such as food, shelter, clothing and health care are available to the destituteand homeless, the official said.

The centres will arrange for facilities to provide vocational training to able-bodied destitute above 18 years so as to enable them to start income generating activities on their own or get gainfully employed in some sector.

There are a sum total of 22 states which have adopted the Prevention of Begging Act 1959 as a derivative in absence of any central act for the same cause. All offences under this act are to be tried summarily except those under Section 11 of the act which penalizes the act of employing or causing persons to beg or use them for the purposes of begging. The Act elaborates in the aforesaid section that if any person employs or causes any other person to solicit or receive alms, or whoever having the custody or charge of the child, connives or encourages, their employment or the causing the child to solicit or receive alms or uses another person as an exhibit, shall be punished for imprisonment for a term up to three but which shall not be less than one year.

Laws governing begging in India

In India, there is no central law which penalises begging. Although, 22 states (including few union Territories) have their anti-begging laws. The Act which functions as the derivative figure for all the state anti-begging law is Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959.Let us go back to 2010 when Commonwealth Games were scheduled to take place. A number of beggars were thrown in jail as per the provisions of anti-begging laws of Delhi. The said law criminalizes begging and provides for the incarceration of people found to be begging. We all know the social definition of begging. Let us understand what legally constitutes begging.

SOLICITING OR RECEIVING MONEY OR FOOD OR GIVEN FOR A PURPOSE AUTHORIZED BY ANY LAW IS NOT BEGGING

Provisions of the anti-begging laws are highly arbitrary, the implementation of the law is even more. Anti-begging squads are to raid public places such as railway stations, temples, mosques, bus terminus, and arrest anybody who looks poor and homeless. There have been situations where, homeless or disabled people were perceived to be beggars, based simply on the fact of their homelessness or disability.

Power of the police to arrest beggars

  • As per the anti-begging laws of various states in India, an authorised Police officer has the power to arrest without a warrant any person who is found begging. If a person is found begging inside a private property, he can only be arrested on a formal complaint by the owner of the property.
  • After arresting, it is the duty of the Police officer to send the arrested beggar to court.
  • A beggar arrested is required to be kept in a certified institution as prescribed by the state government.
  • If the court finds that the person accused was not involved in begging activities he is to be released.
  • If the court is convinced that the person accused was involved in begging, appropriate punishment will be given by the court.

GROUNDS ON WHICH PUNISHMENT IS DECIDED ARE

  1. Age and character of the beggar,
  2. The circumstances and conditions in which the beggar was living,
  3. Findings made by the Probation Officer
  4. A child who is under the age of five years if found begging, the court will forward the child to a Juvenile justice tribunal.
  5. Where a person is convicted for the second or subsequent time, he is to be detained for a period of ten years in a Certified Institution, or his sentence might even increase for further two more years.
  6. Therefore, a total of 12 years in prison might be the punishment when caught begging for the second time.
  7. Where a cripple, blind or physically handicapped person is detained for beggary, court might further extend his duration of sentence for the individual good of the physically handicapped beggar.

Provision for medical examination of beggars who may suffer from leprosy or is lunatic

  • Where it appears that any beggar detained is of unsound mind or a leper, the beggar might be shifted to a mental hospital or leper asylum or another place of safe custody, to be kept and treated.
  • If on the expiration of the term of punishment it is certified by a medical officer that it is necessary for the safety of the beggar or of others that he should be further detained under medical care or treatment, the advice of such doctor will be followed.

Is the anti-begging law curative in nature? Can begging be decreased by the provisions of the anti-begging law?

  • The anti-begging law provides for the teaching of agricultural and industrial techniques to the beggars in detention. There are situation wherein a person, although skilled, may be forced to beg due to lack of employment.
  • In a survey conducted by the Department of Social Welfare of Delhi University, it was found that about 9 to 10 percent of the beggar were educated till the primary level, 5 percent till the secondary level, and that six graduates and four post-graduates had resorted to beggary due to lack of employment opportunities.

Anti-begging laws have invited relatively little judicial attention. Constitutionality of anti-begging legislations is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court. The only petition filed before the Court challenging the constitutionality (whether the anti-begging act is a valid law or not) of the Bombay (Prevention of Begging) Act, 1959.

 Different anti-begging laws in different states of India

Sl.No.States/Union Territories StatesLegislation in Force
1.Andhra PradeshThe Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Beggary Act, 1977
2.AssamThe Assam Prevention of Begging Act, 1964
3.BiharThe Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951
4.ChhattisgarhAdopted the Madhya Pradesh Bikshavirty Nivaran Adhiniyam, 1973
5.GoaThe Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972
6.GujaratAdopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959
7.HaryanaThe Haryana Prevention of Begging Act, 1971
8.Himachal PradeshThe Himachal Pradesh Prevention of Begging Act, 1979
9.Jammu & KashmirThe J&K Prevention of Begging Act, 1960
10.JharkhandAdopted the Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951
11.KarnatakaThe Karnataka Prevention of Begging Act, 1975
12.KeralaThe Madras Prevention of Begging Act, 1945, the Travancore Prevention of Begging Act, 1120 and the Cochin Vagrancy Act, 1120 are in force in different areas of the State.
13.Madhya PradeshThe Madhya Pradesh Bolshevist Navarin Adhamiya, 1973
14.MaharashtraThe Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959
15.PunjabThe Punjab Prevention of Begging Act, 1971
16.SikkimThe Sikkim Prohibition of Beggary Act, 2004
17.Tamil NaduThe Madras Prevention of Begging Act, 1945
18.Uttar PradeshThe Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972
19.UttarakhandAdopted the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972
20.West BengalThe West Bengal Vagrancy Act, 1943
21.Daman & DiuThe Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972
22.DelhiAdopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959

 

WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN?

State laws on begging differ fundamentally in their approach towards the treatment of children found begging. Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, children found begging are treated as victims in need of care and protection to be dealt with by child welfare committees whilst some of the state laws treat them as criminals who can be sent to an institution.

PENALTY FOR BEGGING

The court shall order the person found to be a beggar under the last preceding sub-section to be detained in a Certified Institution for a period of not less than one year, but not more than three years. Provided that, if the court is satisfied from the circumstances of the case that the person found to be a beggar as aforesaid is not likely to beg again, it may after due admonition release the beggar on a bond for the beggar’s abstaining from begging and being of good behaviour, being executed with or without sureties as the court may require by the beggar or any other person whom the court considers suitable. The Court shall have regard to the following considerations, that is to say:-

  • the age and character of the beggar.
  • the circumstances and conditions in which the beggar was living.
  • reports made by the Probation Officer.

PENALTY AFTER BEING DETAINED FOR BEGGING

The sole purpose of this act and all its derivative acts is to rehabilitate beggars from their current illegal profession so that they be trained and employed in proper legal professions instead of resorting to begging. While many would suggest that this act is archaic, one cannot negate the fact that Beggary is one of the biggest and most crucial social issues of India. The reasons for beggary range right from Poverty to Infirmity. Many would agree that it is also used as a method to scam good Samaritans by adhering to rules of deception to get easy money. It is important to know that Begging has grown across the country by many folds, but as a citizen of this society believe that the correct rehabilitation, reformation and restoration of this evil we can overcome this problem of Beggary.

Author: SHRISTI KESHRI, University of Engineering and Management, Kolkata

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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