Indian Anti-Beggary Laws and Their Constitutionality Through the Prism of Fundamental Rights with Special Reference to Ram Lakhan V. State
Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 23-38, 2010
16 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2011
Some of the epithets employed in India to describe a beggar are “ugly face of the nation’s capital”, “obstructers of smooth flow of traffic”, “trespassers”, and “encroachers” on public land”. As for the legal definition of a beggar, it can be traced back to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 (the 1959 Act) which defines this as anyone “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”. Begging under the 1959 Act includes “soliciting or receiving alms in a public place, whether or not under any pretence of singing, dancing, fortune-telling, performing or offering any article for sale”. These provisions of the 1959 Act give carte blanche powers to enforcement agencies, as can be seen by the arrests of persons without warrant found begging, detention in certified institutions for a period of not less than one year, and detention for a period of up to ten years for second-time offenders. Moreover, because of arbitrary, disproportional and discriminatory enforcement mechanisms, poverty coupled with naturaldisability or frail health has also been a basis for arrest under the 1959 Act. For instance, in 1990 a shoe-polisher was arrested for presumed criminality for having “only one hand” while sleeping on the streets. On another occasion, a Tamil boy by the name of Krishnan on his first visit to New Delhi was accosted by an anti-begging squad as he looked lost and bewildered and therefore “fitted into the definition of begging”. This article posits that the 1959 Act criminalizing the poor prima facie intrudes upon due process rights and is contrary to the rule of law. It starts off with a critical discussion on the recent development in the field and regulation of the act of begging in India in the aftermath of Ram Lakhan v State.
Keywords: Anti-beggary Laws, Indian Constitution, Speech and Expression, Ram Lakhan v State
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