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Moving Beyond Criminalisation: A Call to Embrace Rajasthan’s Progressive Model of Rehabilitation for Beggars in India

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This essay critiques the persistent criminalisation of begging in India, identifying this approach as not only inconsistent with India’s constitutional ethos but also largely ineffective in addressing the root causes. By referring to incidents of beggar eviction during high-profile visits and citing a lack of comprehensive data on such measures, the paper proposes Rajasthan’s model as an effective alternative. The paper contrasts the punitive Bombay Prohibition of Begging Act, 1959, with the Rajasthan Rehabilitation of Beggars or Indigents Act, 2012, the latter of which prioritizes rehabilitation, skill development, and social integration over criminal penalties. Furthermore, the paper highlights recent state initiatives under this model, such as Project BHOR, which has successfully helped beggars secure employment. The author concludes by advocating for a national re-evaluation of anti-begging laws, suggesting that the adoption of Rajasthan’s model across India could align more closely with India’s Constitution and traditional ethos of alms-giving. This paradigm shift would reflect a compassionate approach towards beggars and provide them with a sustainable path out of poverty.

Keywords: Begging, Prohibition, Law, Rajasthan, Bombay


It was reported in March 2023 that the Nagpur police administration had prohibited begging in its vicinity until the 30th of April, ostensibly to present a clean image during the G20 summit. However, this is not the first time that the government has taken such measures to portray a sanitized and presentable image of India to the world. In 2020, when American President Donald Trump visited Ahmedabad, the city administration chose to conceal its slums behind a wall. Similarly, in 2017, the Hyderabad police made begging illegal ahead of Ivanka Trump’s visit to the city (Roy, 2023). 

In this essay, I argue that such regressive measures are not ad hoc arrangements but are deeply entrenched in Indian laws. Further, drawing on RTI data, I argue the lack of comprehensive data on the beggars being banned, detained, or punished makes it difficult to assess the impact of such regressive measures. I argue that Rajasthan’s progressive approach, which includes rehabilitation, skill development, and social integration, provides a better way forward to address the issue of begging in India. Finally, I conclude on a note that the anti-begging laws in India are part of the colonial hangover, and are inconsistent both with the spirit of the Indian Constitution as well as the Indian ethos, and therefore, must be replaced with a progressive law similar to that in Rajasthan.   

Regressive Begging Laws Across India

At present, 20 states and 3 union territories in India have a special law dedicated to dealing with the issue of begging. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 (hereafter referred to as the ‘Bombay Law’) can be safely considered the mother of all begging laws in India because it has inspired similar laws in at least 18 other states (Raghavan & Tarique 2018). The Bombay law criminalises begging, being a vagrant, having no visible means of subsistence, soliciting alms, and allowing for arrest without a warrant. In addition to this, it also punishes the dependents of beggars. With the majority of states and union territories drafting their begging laws based on the Bombay law, the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression, right to life, and personal liberty of more than four lakh beggars (as per the 2011 Census) in India stands on pillars of salt and sand. 

In 1990, the expert committee appointed by the Bombay High Court called for the abolition of the Bombay law after studying the actual implementation of the law by the police. Nevertheless, the Bombay law remains the norm and law of the land when it comes to regulating begging (Ramanathan, 2008).

The Lack of Data

Despite the prevalence of the beggary laws in India and the significant impact they have, comprehensive data on the enforcement and effectiveness of these laws is notably absent. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) website does not shed any information on the number of people booked, charged, arrested, or convicted under the relevant state/union territory anti-begging and vagrancy laws. As a result, I filed a Right to Information (RTI) query with the NCRB to seek this information. However, in response to my RTI request, I was informed that the data I had sought was not available. 

Several reports have elucidated that people get into begging due to their extreme state of vulnerability, after all, possible support mechanisms collapse (Koshish 2012), begging is resorted to as a living strategy propelled by poverty, economic insecurity, ill health, and ageing (Massey et al., 2010). However, these reports remain largely qualitative in nature and are limited in their scope and ambit of data collection.

The lack of data is concerning because it makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of existing laws and identify areas for improvement. Further, the absence of data prevents both the policymakers as well as the public from developing an informed opinion on these issues, which in turn may exacerbate the stereotypes about beggars as being “idlers”, “anti-social” and “making easy money” (Baker, 2009).

Rajasthan’s Progressive Model

Even in the face of prevalent regressive anti-begging laws, the Rajasthan Model shines as a beam of hope, illuminating a progressive alternative model. 

Contrary to the Bombay law, the Rajasthan Rehabilitation of Beggars or Indigents Act, 2012 (Hereafter referred to as the ‘Rajasthan law’) decriminalises begging and focuses on rehabilitating and integrating beggars back into society. The Act also recognises that some individuals may resort to begging due to physical and mental disabilities or old age and provides them shelter for their protection and care in the rehabilitation homes. 

When compared with the Bombay Prohibition of Begging Act of 1959, the differences are jarring (see Table 1). 

Table 1

ParametersBombay Prohibition of Begging Act, 1959Rajasthan Rehabilitation of Beggars or Indigents Act, 2012
ObjectiveCriminalises begging and penalises those found begging Focuses on rehabilitating those found begging
Treatment of BeggarsDetention in beggars’ homes or certified institutions(Sections 6, 10 and 11)Provides for the establishment of rehabilitation homes (Section 4)
Rehabilitation ProgramsNoneTraining and equipping them with means to earn a livelihood
Focus on Root CausesNo intentIntends to address the root cause i.e., poverty and unemployment
Treatment of Dependant FamilyDetains dependents as a punitive measure (Section 9)No such provisions
Police RaidsRegular police raids to “pick up” beggars(Section 12)No such provisions
Detention and Punishment PeriodUp to 3 years (Section 6)No detention or punishment 
Constitutional challengesViolates Articles 19 and 21In tune with the Constitution

The Rajasthan model aligns with the spirit of the landmark Delhi High Court judgement that called for a humanistic and compassionate approach to the issue of begging in India. In the case of Harsh Mander v. Union of India, the Delhi High Court held that: “Criminalising begging is a wrong approach to deal with the underlying causes of the problem. It ignores the reality that people who beg are the poorest of the poor and marginalised in society”. 

The Court had also added that the structural reasons for the poverty among beggars could include “lack of access to education, social protection, discrimination based on caste and ethnicity, landlessness, physical and mental challenges, and isolation”. In 2021, even the Supreme Court recognised begging as a function of poverty while refusing to ban begging amid the pandemic. Rajasthan’s approach addresses all these concerns raised by the Constitutional Courts very well.

Recently, the Rajasthan Government also launched its Project BHOR (an acronym for Bhikshook Orientation and Rehabilitation), aimed at providing training at the Kaushal Vardhan Kendras for beggars to work as confectioners, electricians, plumbers, and security guards. 64 of them found employment at various organisations, including Akshay Patra, Fortis Hospital, Hotel Shahpura Residency, etc. The recruits were also tracked periodically for over a year after completing the training (George, 2022).

Other state governments have partially made similar efforts. For example, in 2018, the Karnataka and the Maharashtra government amended their beggary laws, the Karnataka Prevention of Beggary Act, 1975, and the Maharashtra Prohibition of Begging Act, 1959, respectively. Both states shifted their focus from penalising to establishing dedicated rehabilitation and social integration centres for beggars. However, these laws continue to remain regressive as they retained provisions for arrest and detention. This raises concerns regarding the abuse of power by law enforcement officials. making the Rajasthan law uniquely progressive to serve as a template for other states. 

The Way Forward

Beneath the surface of anti-begging legislation in India, which detains and punishes beggars, lurks a colonial hangover. In 14th-century England, the vagrancy law aimed to control the “unruly” and promote unequal labour relations. It did so by penalising homelessness, curtailing the mobility and autonomy of farm-based labourers, and firmly tethering them to the landowning elite. The broader political objective of the law was to suppress their potential to demand better wages in the face of a labour market scarcity caused by the Black Death (Raghavan & Tarique, 2018).  

This colonial approach is neither in tune with the Indian Constitution nor the Indian ethos. Article 38 of the Indian Constitution provides that the “state shall secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of people”. Entry nine in the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution makes “the relief of the disabled and unemployable” a state subject. Further, historically, several practises and institutions in India have aimed at providing for the needs of the poor and destitute, including beggars. The concept of dana (charity) was a central aspect of Indian society. The wealthy and powerful were expected to give generously to those in need. The practice of alms-giving (bhiksha) was also common, with the beggars and wandering ascetics (sannyasis) often relying on the generosity of others for their daily sustenance (Kuppuswamy, 1978). 

In this context, it is time for all the states to let go of their regressive anti-beggary laws, which are a part of the colonial hangover, and use the Rajasthan law as a template for legislating their beggary laws anew and to usher in schemes thereunder to rehabilitate the beggars and integrate them back into society. However, one may argue that simply copying the Rajasthan model might not work for every state, given the varied socio-economic conditions and cultural nuances across regions. The implementation of rehabilitation schemes requires significant resources and well-structured administrative machinery, which not all states may possess. Further, one may even posit that focusing exclusively on the beggary laws might divert attention from the broader systemic issues like unemployment, lack of education, and social stigmatisation that drive people to beg in the first place. 

Despite the concerns about these wicked problems, the time has come for states to acknowledge that poverty cannot be criminalised. Instead of punitive measures, it is only through compassion and a humanistic approach that we can effectively address the issue of begging in our society.

India’s regressive anti-begging laws, deeply rooted in historical practices and colonial legacies, demand a re-evaluation. The lack of comprehensive data on their enforcement hinders effective assessment, emphasising the need for transparency. The progressive Rajasthan model, decriminalising begging and focusing on rehabilitation, offers a promising alternative. Recognising begging as a consequence of poverty aligns with constitutional principles and recent court judgments. As other states make partial strides, Rajasthan’s holistic approach, exemplified by Project BHOR, provides a template for nationwide reform. It is imperative to replace outdated laws, embracing a compassionate, inclusive, and constitutionally aligned approach to address the complexities of begging in India.


  1. George, D. K. (2022, March 11). How the Bhor Project is rehabilitating beggars and helping them earn a livelihood. Your Story
  3. Koshish. (2012). Begging: A preferred way of life or sheer necessity. Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
  4. Kuppuswamy, B. (1978). Concept of begging in ancient thought. Indian Journal of Social Work, 39, 187-192.
  5. Massey, D., Rafique, A., & Seeley, J. (2010). Begging in rural India and Bangladesh. Economic and Political Weekly, 45(14), 64-71.
  6. Raghavan, V., & Tarique, M. (2018). Penalising poverty. Economic & Political Weekly, 53(22), 27.
  7. Ramanathan, U. (2008). Ostensible poverty, beggary and the law. Economic and Political Weekly, 43(44), 33-44.
  8. Baker, D. J. (2009). A critical evaluation of the historical and contemporary justifications for criminalising begging. The Journal of Criminal Law, 73(3), 212-240.
  9. Roy, R. (2023, March 10). Nagpur bans begging ahead of G20, but courts in the past have begged to differ. The Quint.

Jehosh Paul

Jehosh Paul holds an LLM in Law and Development from the Azim Premji University.