So safe in a Sarai
by Amitabh Thakur on 30 Oct 2012 2 Comments

Since time immemorial, human beings have been going from one place to another for short trips. These travels and visits to places away from their place of usual dwelling have resulted in the rise of hotel, motel, lodge, inn, chalet, cabin, tavern, public house and what not. Thus, the movement of human beings is not a new phenomenon nor is the creation of places of stay for such travellers.  At the same time, it is pertinent to note that whenever a person moves from his/her place of dwelling to a new place, he/she becomes a stranger or an outsider for this new place. While the rest of the people are generally known to each other, this newcomer is usually unknown to the others. This anonymity has its own possibilities of secrecy and mystery. It creates a situation akin to groping in the dark about this unknown stranger. Who he is, what has he come for, where did he come from, and so on.


It is at this stage that the larger public interest comes in picture. Since we know that Mr A is residing in a given house for long and is Mrs B’s husband and he works at Company C etc, we have his whereabouts and have the means of keeping a tab over this man. But what about a person, Mr X, whose whereabouts, credentials and particulars are not known?


The problem associated with mobile persons was known and acknowledged from ancient times. Kautilya in his magnum opus Arthasastra categorically says that the administration is supposed to keep informed about all who enter the city. Much later, the British also placed great importance to knowing about the antecedents and movements of unknown people.


Hence they enacted the Sarai Act as early as 1867. The Act had its objective of the regulation of public sarais and puraos. It defined sarai as any building used for the shelter and accommodation of travellers and including, in cases in which only part of a building was used as a sarai, the part so used of such building. It said that within six months of the Act coming into operation, the District Magistrate where a sarai is situated shall give to the keeper of every such sarai notice in writing of this Act so as to require him to register the sarai under this Act. It says the DM shall keep a register in which the names and residences of the keepers of all sarais within his jurisdiction, and the situation of every such sarai, shall be kept.


Section 5 states very clearly that the keeper of any sarai or any other person shall not receive any lodger or allow any person or any vehicle to halt or be placed in such sarai until the same and the name and residence of the keeper thereof shall have been registered as by this Act provided. The Act gives the District Magistrate power to refuse to register keepers not producing certificate of character. Among the duties of keepers of sarais are that when any person in such sarai is ill from any infectious or contagious disease, or dies of such disease, he shall give immediate notice thereof to the nearest police-station, he shall give free access to the public authorities to visit and inspect the sarai.


Keepers of sarais are duty bound to provide names and details of all visitors when asked by the DM. As per section 14, if the keeper of a sarai offends against any of the provisions of this Act or any of the regulations made in pursuance of this Act, he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding twenty rupees, and to a further penalty not exceeding one rupee a day, if he gets convicted.


As can be easily seen, this Act is a very useful piece of legislature because it needs every sarai and the name and residence of the keeper to be registered with the District Magistrate. The need for such an Act in present day India can be underrated only at great cost to internal security. Such an Act helps the District Administration to keep abreast of the various travellers in a city. In today’s climate, the need for a reasonable control over the sarai and its dwellers is extremely useful and much needed.


Given the immense utility of the Act, and because some of its provisions need immediate attention from the authorities, the writer would like to suggest a few amendments:


1] While sarai means a shelter for travellers, the word traveller has not been specifically defined in the Act. In these days, besides daily travelers, a new set of people have emerged in large numbers - paying guests and private hostellers. Hundreds of private hostels and paying guest accommodation are sprouting and flourishing in every city. Hence, there is a need to adequately define the word “traveler” in the Sarai Act to include among other things, those staying in private hostels and as paying guests.


2] Similarly section 14 of the Act relates to infringing the Act or regulations. It says that if the keeper of a sarai offend against any of the provisions of this Act or any of the regulations made in pursuance of this Act, he shall for every such offence be liable on conviction before any Magistrate to a penalty not exceeding twenty rupees, and to a further penalty not exceeding one rupee a day for every day during which the offence continues.


This penalty is simply too low for a serious offence, and makes a mockery of the legal process, as does the levy of extra penalty of Rs. one per day. Hence it is imperative that the Government define the word “traveller” in the Sarai Act 1867 to include private hostellers and paying guests and raise the penalty sufficiently keeping in mind present monetary values.


It is most important that the Act be properly implemented in letter and spirit so that the administration has suitable control over the movement, activities and other details about persons coming from unknown places to stay in these hotels and inns.


The author is an IPS officer from UP and is associated with the National RTI Forum, Lucknow 

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