Begging in India and its Legal outlook
The Article ‘Begging in India and its legal outlook’ by Debarjita Bhattacharjee is an extensive analysis that describes the human rights of beggars, the impact of begging in our country along with the certain decisions of courts on begging. The emphasis is put on the constitutional provisions of India which prevent discrimination against citizens in any manner. Begging… Read More »
The Article ‘Begging in India and its legal outlook’ by Debarjita Bhattacharjee is an extensive analysis that describes the human rights of beggars, the impact of begging in our country along with the certain decisions of courts on begging. The emphasis is put on the constitutional provisions of India which prevent discrimination against citizens in any manner. Begging was for the first time declared a criminal offence by the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act in 1959.
The author cited authentic reports where it is crystal clear that the offence of begging is increasing day by day. The author pleads that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides those basic human rights which cannot be taken away. Through this article, it is the wish of the author that the Central and State Governments must work with huge cooperation to eradicate the chain of begging.
Introduction: Begging in India and its Legal outlook
At every traffic signal or near every temple of our holy country we see a range of beggars praying for our mercy, for their survival. From newly-borns to aged, perfectly fit, and crippled, this highly dynamic range of beggars has become a common sight for daily commuters. We often ignore them like we ignore a dog wagging its tail near a food stall. Many a time we seem to even forget that these indigents are human too.
As pointed out by Justice B.D.Ahmed in the case of Ram Lakhan v. State 2006, that beggars are human beings and not beasts. Here, in this case, the justice detested the despicable language where it was alleged that the accused, the beggar was found begging by raising its ‘front paws’. Comparing the act of pleading for alms by raising hands with that paws shows high disregard for human lives.
According to a report of 2015 published by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, India is the home of approximately 70,506 beggars whereas, 43,141 are male and 27,365 are female beggars.
In a most recent survey of 2021, the Press Information Bureau of India released the number of beggars residing in India is more than 4lakhs of which 2,21,673 are male beggars and 1,91,997 are female beggars spread across the country.
Laws against begging and its Impact
There is no central law against begging in India. Most of the states and a few Union Territories in India have formulated their own beggary laws and the penalty against them. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959 (hereinafter referred to as the “Bombay Act”) was the first Act of independent India that defined and labeled begging as a criminal offence. The Bombay Act defined begging as the act of –
- Soliciting or receiving alms, in a public place whether or not under any pretense such as singing, dancing, fortune-telling, performing, or offering any article for sale;
- entering on any private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms;
- 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;
- 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 soliciting or receiving alms;
This Act made begging a cognizable offence whereas a police officer or any other person authorized on this behalf may arrest a person found begging without a warrant. It has not only penalized the act of receiving alms but provided stringent punishment of detention for a period of 10 years at a Certified Institution to persons convicted of begging for the second or subsequent time.
In the following years Delhi, along with many other states, adopted the Bombay Act and its implementation could be seen in the year 2009 just before the Commonwealth games. Delhi witnessed the removal of paupers in the National Capital Territory in the most indecent manner where police officers shoved men, women, and old, sick children into a vehicle and were charged with criminal offences. The beggars being illiterate had no knowledge of the charges of which they were accused nor there was any legal aid available for them.
A similar anti-beggary drive could be seen in Hyderabad in 2017- 2018 which follows the Telangana Prevention of Begging Act of 1977. Begging was made an offence in south India and imposed Section 188 of IPC to any person found begging on the streets. As a result of this drive, approximately 9000 beggars were picked up from the streets of Hyderabad by the state prison department of which only 300 were sent to rehabilitation centers to provide education and employment.
Beggar’s Rights vis-à-vis Human Rights
The Constitution of India does not discriminate between citizens of India. The right to live with dignity which is often taken away from these poor fellows is one of the most revered fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian Constitution under Article 21. Similar in lines are Article 14 and Article 19(1)(a) which state equality before the law and equal protection of the law and assured freedom of speech and expression respectively. However, these rights are not absolute.
Honourable Justice of Delhi High Court in the case of Ram Lakhan v. State held that though begging is protected by Article 19(1)(a) but this does not mean that begging cannot be prohibited. The prohibition must, however, operate within limitations.
The rights of beggars are also at par with the rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Numerous provisions of UDHR provide basic human rights that these indigents cannot be deprived of, such as –
- Article 1 says all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,
- Article 5 mentions no one shall be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment,
- Article 7 is against discrimination,
- Article 19 mentions the right to freedom of expression and Article 25 deals with the right to a standard of living.
The National Human Rights Commission of India promotes and protects the human rights embodied in the Constitution through Section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act,1993. It is the watchdog of human rights in India.
Views of Courts of India on begging
I) In the case of Ram Lakhan v. State (2006), the Delhi High Court critically analyzed the rights of beggars putting emphasis on the Constitution, and also made a classification of beggars into four categories –
- Lazy- who doesn’t want to work
- Alcoholic or drug-addict
- Forced by the leader of a beggary “gang”
- Starving, hopeless and helpless
The judgment stated that in cases where a person is forced to beg under the last two categories, he should not be convicted for he has not performed the act voluntarily.
II) The Petitioners, in the case of Sushila Kanwar Poonam Kunwar v. State of Gujrat (2006), demanded the practice of eunuchs receiving alms to be made a fundamental right and be considered a profession. The Gujrat High Court rejected the petition stating that begging cannot be lifted to the level of the profession as it would amount to illegality and may harm society.
III) In another landmark case of Harsh Mandar & Anr. Petitioners v. Union of India & Ors., the constitutionality of all the sections of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act was challenged except Section 11. The Delhi High Court 2018 decriminalized begging by striking down most of the provisions of the act as unconstitutional as it violates the fundamental rights granted to every citizen.
IV) In a recent PIL filed before the Supreme Court of India seeking to remove beggars from public places to avoid the spread of Covid-19. The apex court held that they cannot take an elitist view and ban begging. Nobody begs out of choice but poverty hence eradication of begging would not solve this socio-economic problem.
Therefore, the courts of India have always upheld the fundamental rights of beggars and sympathized with their condition. Even before the decriminalization of the Prevention of Begging Act by the Delhi High Court, different High Courts raised the question of its unconstitutionality in many instances. In the recent case, the Supreme Court further provided that the destitute have the right to avail medical treatment. As a result, the court issued notice to the Central and Delhi governments to vaccinate them.
Measures: By the Centre and the State Governments to combat begging
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has initiated a project called ‘Central Sector Scheme for Comprehensive Rehabilitation of persons engaged in the act of Begging’ for the years 2021-2022 to 2025-2026. This project has been initiated to provide a standard life to the homeless including medical care, shelter, education, and employment opportunities. The Ministry has allocated a total fund of Rs. 100 Cr. for the implementation of this project.
Many other states have also taken measures in previous years to combat this socio-economic problem such as
- The State Government of West Bengal initiated the Beggary Prevention Scheme with the objective to make beggars self-sufficient.
- The Government of Gujrat launched a rehabilitation scheme for beggars with the aim to provide them with shelter and skill-based training.
- In order to turn Hyderabad into a “beggar-free” city, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation launched a drive to provide assistance to genuine beggars and eradicate fake beggars.
Besides the programs launched by State Governments to exterminate begging in India, several NGOs, Companies, and private individuals have taken steps to provide facilities to these vagrants and to make their lives better.
India being the home of a large number of beggars and vagrants, needs to take steps to eradicate begging at the ground level. The problem of begging cannot be solved by criminalizing the practice of soliciting alms. To combat this challenge the Government needs to provide them with education and employment opportunities, to make them self-reliable.
The State Governments also need to identify the genuine beggars, those who are in actual need of help from those who are using the sympathy of common people to earn money. The business of earning alms using children needs to be stopped immediately to protect the young children from destroying their lives.
The Anti-beggary laws can be useful for punishing the people who adopted beggary as a profession despite numerous assistance provided to them by Governments and NGOs. However, these laws can be proved to be a menace to society if the authority fails to recognize an innocent beggar. The solution to this problem cannot be found in short-term goals. The Central Government along with the State Governments’ needs to work hand in hand to destroy the chain of the business of begging and to provide these destitute –
- Education – to children as well as their parents;
- Employment – by providing them training and opportunities to work;
- Shelter- to the homeless;
- Medical treatment – at no cost or nominal cost; and
- Food – for nutrition and good health.
 Ram Lakhan v. State 137 (2007) DLT 173
 Sushila Kanwar Poonam Kunwar v. State of Gujrat AIR 2000 Guj 194, (2000) 3 GLR 2359
 Harsh Mandar & Anr. Petitioners v. Union of India & Ors. writ petition (Civil) Diary No. 10801/2020
 Public Interest Litigation to remove beggars, Available Here.
 Central Sector Scheme for Comprehensive Rehabilitation of persons engaged in the act of Begging Scheme, Available Here
 National Human Rights Commission, Available Here