Article 23

Prohibition of ‘Traffic in Human Beings’ and Forced Labour

The first part of Article 23(1) of the Constitution prohibits traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour. The second part of this article declares that any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law. 

Article 23(2) provides that- Nothing in this article shall prevent the State to imposing compulsory service for public purposes provided that in making so it shall not make any discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

‘Traffic in Human Beings’ means selling and buying men and women like goods and include immoral traffic in women and children for immoral or other purposes.

  • Though slavery is not expressly mentioned in Article 23, it is included in the expression ‘traffic in human being’.
  • Article 23 protects the individual not only against the State but also private citizens. It imposes a positive obligation on the State to take steps to abolish evils of “traffic in human beings” and begar and other similar forms of forced labour whenever they are found.
  • Begar and “other forms of forced labour” are prohibited by this article.

The act of begging is a crime in 20 states and two union territories of India. It is treated as cognizable and non-bailable offense.

Currently, there is no central law on begging & destitution and most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959.

Ram Lakhan v State (Case dealing with anti-Begging law):

In this case, Hon’ble Court has critically analysed every situation of a beggar from a legal, social and ethical point of view.

  • Contrary to Bombay act 1959, judgment has classified beggars into 4 categories: 
  • Down-right lazy who doesn’t want to work.
  • Alcoholic or drug-addict
  • Forced by a ringleader of a beggary “gang”.
  • Starving, hopeless and helpless
  • Judge says that people falling under the 3rd and 4th category are doing the act under necessity and thus those should not be convicted for the act which they are not performing voluntary.
  • The provision is also contrary to the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression (Art 19).
  • Court held that Begging Act violated Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
  • Court also observes that under article 21 it is stated the responsibility to provide quality life to its citizens. The state cannot penalize people for begging due to poverty.
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