Without going into moralities or immoralities involved in begging, let us look at, whether begging is a crime in India or not? What is the position of law on facilitating begging? Is it a crime or not? In this article, Anubhav Pandey discusses the anti-begging laws prevalent in India. Indian Anti-Beggary Law.
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. States which have their own anti-begging laws are attached in Annex 1.
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 criminalises 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.
Definition of begging as per anti-begging law
- Soliciting or receiving money, clothes or other things ordinarily given to a beggar, in a public place whether or not by singing, dancing, fortune telling, performing or offering any article for sale, or
- Entering on any private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving money, clothes or other things ordinarily given to a beggar.
- Exposing or exhibiting, with the object of obtaining or extorting money, clothes or other things ordinarily given to a beggar, any sore, wound injury, deformity of diseases whether of a human being or animal
- 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 money, clothes or other things ordinarily given to a beggar.
- Allowing oneself to be used as an exhibit for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms.
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.
Punishment for begging
- Punishment can be anywhere between 1 to 3 years. But, if the court is satisfied from the circumstances of the case that the person found to be a beggar is not likely to beg again, the court might release the beggar on his assurance of abstinence from begging and being of good behavior.
Grounds on which punishment is decided are
- Age and character of the beggar,
- The circumstances and conditions in which the beggar was living,
- Findings made by the Probation Officer
- A child who is under the age of five years if found begging, the court will forward the child to a Juvenile justice tribunal.
- 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.
- Therefore, a total of 12 years in prison might be the punishment when caught begging for the second time.
- 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.
Begging exists in the form of business too. There are people who employ others for begging purposes. The employer takes a small token from the money begged by the beggar. The law provides for those who employ others for begging shall be punished with imprisonment for a term between 1 to 3 years.
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, was withdrawn by the petitioner.
Beggars can be categorised into four categories-those who do not wish to work, those unable to work due to substance addiction, those who may be at the mercy of a begging gang, and lastly, those who may be destitute and starving. Begging is a constitutionally protected right in the United States.
Ram Lakhan v State (Case dealing with anti-Begging law)
The Delhi High Court moved away from the judicial practice of castigating begging and upheld its legitimacy through a comparative discourse on the common law doctrines of necessity and duress, as well as on the principles of equality and liberty embodied in the Constitution. One significant aspect of Ram Lakhan is that it addresses the issue of begging from the touchstone of Article 19(1)(a), read with Article 21 of the Constitution, and asserts that unreasonable prohibitions on begging are unconstitutional in that they invariably deprive beggars of two fundamental rights.
Different anti-begging laws in different states of India
|Sl.No.||States/Union Territories States||Legislation in Force|
|1.||Andhra Pradesh||The Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Beggary Act, 1977|
|2.||Assam||The Assam Prevention of Begging Act, 1964|
|3.||Bihar||The Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951|
|4.||Chhattisgarh||Adopted the Madhya Pradesh Bikshavirty Nivaran Adhiniyam, 1973|
|5.||Goa||The Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972|
|6.||Gujarat||Adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
|7.||Haryana||The Haryana Prevention of Begging Act, 1971|
|8.||Himachal Pradesh||The Himachal Pradesh Prevention of Begging Act, 1979|
|9.||Jammu & Kashmir||The J&K Prevention of Begging Act, 1960|
|10.||Jharkhand||Adopted the Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951|
|11.||Karnataka||The Karnataka Prevention of Begging Act, 1975|
|12.||Kerala||The 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 Pradesh||The Madhya Pradesh Bikshavirty Nivaran Adhiniyam, 1973|
|14.||Maharashtra||The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
|15.||Punjab||The Punjab Prevention of Begging Act, 1971|
|16.||Sikkim||The Sikkim Prohibition of Beggary Act, 2004|
|17.||Tamil Nadu||The Madras Prevention of Begging Act, 1945|
|18.||Uttar Pradesh||The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972|
|19.||Uttarakhand||Adopted the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972|
|20.||West Bengal||The West Bengal Vagrancy Act, 1943|
|21.||Daman & Diu||The Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972|
|22.||Delhi||Adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
Ram Lakhan v State, 137 (2007) DLT 173
Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959