Context:

The Bombay High Court said that homeless people and beggars should also work for the country as everything cannot be provided to them by the state.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of the policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Criminalization of Beggary in India
    1. Beggary Laws in India
    2. Definition of Beggary
  2. Criticism: Violation of Fundamental Rights

Criminalization of Beggary in India

  • Beggary laws in India is a relic of the old colonial legacy- e.g., according to the Criminal Tribes Act (1871), indigenous peoples were deemed criminals by birth and herded into concentration camps, where families were separated and forced labour was the norm. (These criminal tribes are now called denotified tribes after independence, which forms a major section of people engaged in beggary.)

Beggary Laws in India

  • There is no central Act on beggary, however, many States and Union Territories have used certain sections of the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, (Which criminalises beggary) as the basis for their own laws.
  • Through these legislations, the governments try to maintain public order, addresses forced begging or “begging rackets”, prevent annoyance to tourists.
  • In India, begging was first criminalised in the 1920s, as part of a colonial logic that sought to subjugate certain communities by imputing criminality to them.
  • Railway Act, 1989: says that if any person begs in any railway carriage or upon a railway station, he shall be liable for punishment as provided under sub-section (1), which prescribes imprisonment for a term that may extend to one year, or with fine that may extend to Rs. 2,000, or with both. The railways had also proposed to amend the Section stating that “No person shall be permitted to beg in any railway carriage or upon any part of the Railway”.

Definition of Beggary

  • The Act defines beggary as an activity of 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 exists by soliciting or receiving alms.
  • However, the provisions of legislation aim to effectively “cleanse” these spaces of individuals who appear poor or destitute.

Criticism: Unjust Process

  • People found “begging” can be arrested without a warrant, and after a summary procedure, thrown into “Beggars Homes” for anything between a year and three years.
  • Also, many of these beggars homes are poorly regulated without superintendents, probation officers or doctors.

Criticism: Violation of Fundamental Rights

  • Begging and homelessness are indicators of chronic poverty, therefore, criminalising poverty violates basic human dignity.
  • This coupled with the draconian processes under the Act, violated the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Some argue that – Begging is a peaceful method by which a person sought to communicate their situation to another, and solicit their assistance.
  • Beggary is a manifestation of the fact that the person has fallen through the socially created net.
  • The government has the mandate to provide social security for everyone, to ensure that all citizens have basic facilities, and the presence of beggars is evidence that the state has not managed to provide these to all its citizens.

Past Judgement by Delhi HC

  • “Criminalising begging is a wrong approach to deal with the underlying causes of the problem.”
  • “The State simply cannot fail to do its duty to provide a decent life to its citizens and add insult to injury by arresting, detaining and, if necessary, imprisoning persons who beg in search for essentials of bare survival”.

-Source: The Hindu

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