Most of the states and UTs in India have their own anti-begging law. Are such anti-begging laws a comprehensive solution to begging menace? Discuss while suggesting alternative solutions.
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.
The issues with anti begging laws of India
- 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.
- Most people at old age are forced to begging because their children refuse to take care of them. Statutory provisions that impose the duty of looking after the parents needs to be enforced more vigorously.
- India needs to develop a robust social security net to prevent the vulnerable from taking the route of begging.
- Taking concrete steps on rehabilitation as proposed in the model law provided by the centre.
- The trafficking rackets needs to be handled to counter those are using trafficked children, women for begging needs to be dealt with iron hand.
- Fighting discrimination, vulnerable groups like transgenders are forced to beg as the society is not ready to accept and integrate them with the mainstream.
Those who are begging due to lack of opportunities must be supported with humane approach. Those taking begging as profession or industry needs to be tackled with an iron hand or else it would lead to law and order issues.
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