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A law followed in the breach

Bageshree S.

Rule to produce a beggar before magistrate being flouted



Blind to the law:Beggars are treated worse than convicts with no access to legal help.

Bangalore: The vagrancy law that guides arrest and rehabilitation of beggars in the State — the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975 — is being blatantly flouted, including the most fundamental rule on producing a detained beggar before a magistrate within 24 hours from the time of the arrest.

There have been several complaints on raids and detentions being arbitrary, with no regard for judicial procedure. In 2009, People's Union of Civil Liberties had filed a complaint with the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission stating that even sex workers and labourers were randomly arrested and detained for indefinite periods.

‘Worse than convicts'

A report by the students of the National Law School of India University in 2005, A Study of Vagrancy Laws, states: “In direct violation of the Act, inmates were never produced before the magistrate and were charge-sheeted by the administrative staff of the home.” As Aarti Mundkur of the Alternative Law Forum puts it, people at the home are “incarcerated and treated worse than convicts with no access to legal help”.

While basic legal procedure is not adhered to, rules framed on health, nutrition and rehabilitation have all remained on paper. For instance, according to the law, a beggar who is of unsound mind or is suffering from leprosy should “immediately be removed to a mental hospital or a leper asylum or other place of safe custody”. It also recommends that “the able-bodied, disabled, diseased, mentally deranged and infectiously affected” should be “as far as possible accommodated separately”. However, in reality, all those detained, regardless of their health and mental condition, are thrown together.

The spate of deaths at the home is also proof of violation of the health and nutrition guidelines. The rules give a chart of food to be given (with quantity of ingredients specified), and say that the hygiene of food preparation should be strictly monitored. The rules also say that inmates have to undergo health check-up every fortnight and health log should be maintained for each inmate.

Just one doctor

That there is only one doctor to take care of 2,547 inmates is adequate proof of not just the guidelines being violated, but the impossibility of following them.

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