Problem of Beggars and Anti-Begging Laws

Beggars in India are visible in almost every place, especially in Metro cities, mostly dependent entirely on getting money/food/clothes from people and literally at the mercy of people. Recently, Telangana Police launched a campaign to make Hyderabad (temporarily) beggar free as the city was getting ready to host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

As per the latest order by the Hyderabad Police, begging has been made illegal because as per the police beggars cause annoyance and awkwardness by indecent persistent behaviour on the roads, and places of public gathering like markets etc. This is not the first time such a thing has happened as it was done at the time of Common Wealth Games (CWG) in Delhi, 2010. It was also done in China when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and even in 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics.

Laws around Begging

In India, there is no major law which penalizes beggars and begging but around 22 states (including Union Territory) have their own anti-begging laws. Most of these laws are derived from the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. Using this as a guiding light many states have made their own anti-begging laws. Since Begging pertains to food and clothing; and law & order, anything related to beggars and beggary is to be handled by state governments. The laws define begging as soliciting or receiving money/clothes/ordinary things required for living and which are given to a beggar in a public space – even when the beggar is doing so by singing, dancing, selling an article, fortune telling etc. Further begging / beggars include:

  • Anyone who enters someone’s private premises so as to get money or clothes or any other ordinary thing which is given to a beggar.
  • Anyone who exhibits/exposes with an objective of extorting money, clothes or other items which are commonly given to a beggar, any sore, wound injury or a deformity.
  • Anyone who allows himself to be exhibited in order to get alms
  • Anyone who has no visible means of subsistence and is wandering about or living in any public area in a condition which makes the person to likely be considered as a recipient of money, clothes and ordinary things which are generally given to a beggar.

Beggars can be classified into four broad categories, those do not wish to work, those who are not able to work because of substance addiction, those who are forced to beg due to a syndicate working in the area or those who may be starving and have no other choice but to beg.

What are issues with Anti-begging law?

  • Anti-begging laws in most part of the country are more punitive than remedial—they treat begging as a cognisable and non-bailable offence, with the provision that a summary inquiry may be enough to ascertain guilt and hand out punishment. The third offence onwards, a person may be sentenced to 10 years in an institution as provided for by the state, including two years in jail.
  • A better way to deal with it will be to ensure the destitute are rehabilitated or given some form of subsistence support.
  • The model law that the Union government brought earlier this year asks the state government to set up well-equipped rehabilitation centres where beggars can be counselled and provided vocational training.
  • This may impose a burden on the state coffers, but the PR disaster the state risks by doing nothing or banning beggary is arguably a much bigger imposition.

Why Anti-Beggar Laws not effective in India?

As it is widely visible beggars are present everywhere in our cities and these beggars often end up as drug addicts, substance abusers and at the time nothing at all. Even though many of them are mentally sound with all physical parts functional they choose to beg and be a liability instead of working and becoming an asset. There have been instances when these beggars tend to engage in illegal activities like making others beg too which lead to a vicious circle.

Even though the anti-begging laws have enough provisions to re-establish and re-settle and even skill these beggars in agriculture or in industrial skills. Nut in many cases the problem arises when a skilled person die to unemployment tends to beg.

Even though people at their own level try to work with beggars via NGOs, and while there are some legal provisions to help those begging the problem arises in taking a greater initiative as the number of beggars keeps increasing due to chronic unemployment or in many cases abandonment by family members.