[Editorial Analysis] Begging the Question

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms


• According to Census 2011, the total number of beggars and vagrants in India is 4,13,670 — 2,21,673 males and 1,91,997 females.

• State-wise, with an aggregate of 81,244, West Bengal leads by a considerable margin, followed by Uttar Pradesh.

• These numbers differ slightly from the figures given in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s ‘Handbook on Social Welfare Statistics’ (January 2016).

• From Census 2011, there are 3,72,217 beggars and vagrants in India, 1,97,725 males and 1,74,492 females.

• What is a vagrant and why do we still use such a term?

• Several states have anti-beggary legislation — Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Delhi.

• The word “vagrant” colonial legacy from the English poor laws belief that able-bodied poor must be made to compulsorily work and not laze around.

• England had a Vagabonds and Beggars Act in 1494 Vagrants Act 1824.

What is the difference between a vagrant and a beggar?

• A vagrant has no fixed abode and wanders around.

• By that definition, a religious mendicant is a vagrant.

• In that list of state-specific legislation, all but two mention beggary, not vagrancy.

• The two that mention vagrancy are the Bengal Vagrancy Act (1943) and Cochin Vagrancy Act (1945), applicable to some parts of Kerala.

• For West Bengal, “Vagrant means a person found asking for alms in any public place, or wandering about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner as makes it likely that such person exists by asking for alms but does not include a person collecting money or asking for food or gifts for a prescribed purpose.”

• Kumbh is under way in Prayagraj where 1,00,000 sadhus have temporarily set up abode there.

• The legislation may be directed against beggary, itinerant or stationary, it seems to legally cover religious mendicants.

Way forward

• Censuses today don’t collect these numbers. Take the household Census 2011 schedule main workers and marginal workers, with few questions for non-workers.

• Religious mendicants are no household to be visited. If you have become a sanyasi, you have severed all links with this world, including property rights.

• Sanyasis have started to get legal identities. SECC (rural) “households engaged in begging, charity and alms collection”.

• It asks about the main source of household income and has a possible response of begging/charity/alms collection. Hence, I think we had better numbers for religious mendicants in 1911 than in 2011, or 2019.

• If you are asked for a figure, say 2.5 lakhs. That was roughly the figure in 1911. With a 2.5 lakh base, one lakh at the kumbh is plausible.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements regarding Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK):

1. The programme aims at early detection of defects, deficiency, diseases and disabilities.

2. It covers children in the age group of 0 -18 years.

3. It is being implemented in both urban and rural areas.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: D

Mains Questions:


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