Railways propose to decriminalise begging and smoking in trains

Koyna Mitra 7th September, 2020

Begging in stations and trains to be decriminalised (Source: Governance Now)

The Indian Railways have proposed to decriminalise begging in stations and trains and smoking inside coaches. This is not to say that it would be legalised, but that on the spot penalty would be given more focus. Times of India reported that the arrest for begging and smoking would be done away as the attention would shift to prevention through higher on-the-spot penalties imposed on those found transgressing the rules in trains.

Section 144(2) of the Railways Act, 1989 says that if one was to beg in a carriage of a train or on a railway station, they would be liable to be punished as advised under sub-section (1), which prescribes a jail sentence for up to one year, or a fine that may extend to ₨ 2000, or both. According to the proposed amendment to this section, people shall still not be permitted to beg in trains or at stations, only the retribution would be different.

Section 167 of the aforementioned act says that no person in any compartment of a train shall smoke if it is objected to by a fellow passenger. Regardless of a lack of objections raised, however, the railway administration may prohibit smoking in any train or part of a train. Whomsoever flouts these rules shall be punishable with a fine of up to ₨ 100.

The proposition now is to increase the fine, although the exact due has not been decided upon, according to The Hindu. In another facet of the proposal, if the offender pays their due immediately then the officer engaging with them can charge the maximum fine for them. The violator will be allowed to leave and no further action would be taken against them.

The Hindu reported that in 2018, the Delhi High court removed the sections in the law that made begging in the national capital a punishable offence. They said that criminalising begging was a wrong approach to deal with the underlying causes of the problem and that the State was simply adding insult to injury by arresting, detaining, and imprisoning people who had to search for the essentials of bare survival through the means of begging.

A ministry official while defending the newly proposed provisions said to Times of India, “This does not mean that railways will allow or encourage begging at stations and in trains. Decriminalisation doesn’t mean it will be legalised. Surveillance by RPF and other staff will be increased to prevent such activities,”. Smoking in public places, including railway stations, is already banned in several states.

The changes have been proffered following a communication from the cabinet secretariat to prevent follow up action on certain offences, a railway official told Times of India. The railways may increase the spot fines for a few other offences as well, they added. Ministries are undertaking the practice and several departments are agreeing to increase fines on the spot instead of arresting perpetrators.

(Sources: Times of India, The Hindu)

Edited by Varun Vyas Hebbalalu

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