Diwali in New Delhi means parties with some festive gambling in many households across the city (Tambola was a family favourite). Recently, the Delhi Police raided a high-profile Diwali party in the posh residential colony of Sainik Farms. It has been alleged that this was actually a gambling den and a case has been registered. A friend called up asked whether this means the little party he was planning this week could also come under the cloud. I figured it would make good material for a short post.
The Delhi Public Gambling Act 1955 is what governs this area. It is based on an old colonial statute - the Public Gambling Act 1867 - and one can find similar laws today in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh among other states. The name of the statute makes it clear that it does not have a problem with all kinds of gambling. Public gambling is the vice it deals with. This covers two situations, the first where the organisation of the gambling itself is being made a venture. So if there was a fee levied on entering the gambling house, for instance, which the owner of the house keeps. The other situation is where some manner of gambling occurs on the occurrence or non-occurrence or extent of any natural event. So, no, the regular Diwali party is not going to make an offence under the Delhi Public Gambling Act. This is without even discussing what is gambling and whether some games of skill can be excluded, a question that has reached the Supreme Court more than once.
But this is not all. What is far more interesting, and problematic, in the Delhi Public Gambling Act is Section 10. This empowers a magistrate to compel any individual arrested / apprehended on suspicion of committing an offence to make a statement on oath. The provision categorically states, that "No person so required to be examined as a witness shall be excused ... on the ground that his evidence will tend to criminate himself." The provision further states that refusal to make a statement is an offence itself, punishable under Sections 178 or 179 IPC. This is also present in the older Public Gambling Act 1867, and the laws on public gambling promulgated by other states mentioned above. If ever there was a clear violation of the right against self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution, it is this. Despite this, I haven't come across a decision of the Supreme Court or any High Court declaring this provision to be unconstitutional. Depending upon how the investigation in the current case arising out Sainik Farms goes, we might just get that decision.