Delhi HC Dismisses Begging As An Offence, Says Criminalising Begging Is Wrong Approach
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court nullified the provision stating that begging is a criminal offence and said in its 23-page judgement that the provision is unconstitutional and should be demolished. Delhi HC subdued ‘The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act,1959’ by stating that beggars do not beg by their choice. It is their unfortunate conditions which compelled them to fulfil their surviving necessities. The court’s concern is that by making begging an illicit act, the government can not solve the country’s deep-rooted problem of poverty. Criminalising begging is like the government turning a blind eye to an underprivileged mass of the society, reported by Economic Times.
Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar passed the judgement that charging any person for begging under the Bombay Prevention of Begging act will not be legal. Although, the HC said any other method to minimize the forced begging racket is welcome. The judgement described the amendments in the legislation which criminalises begging as against the basic human rights and should be abolished.
“If we want to eradicate begging, artificial means to make beggars invisible will not suffice. A move to criminalise them will make them invisible without addressing the cause of the problem. The cause is poverty, which has many structural reasons: no access to education, social protection, discrimination based on caste and ethnicity, landlessness, physical and mental challenges, and isolation,” as reported by Economic Times.
While striking down 25 sections of the Act, the bench said that the provisions which do not criminalize the act of begging are to be kept as it is.
Criminalising begging – A wrong approach
Earlier in May, the HC demanded an explanation on how begging is a crime with a country where the regime is not capable of providing necessities or any day job to the poor.
“Begging is a symptom of a disease, of the fact that the person has fallen through the socially created net. The government has the mandate to provide social security for everyone, to ensure that all citizens have basic facilities, and the presence of beggars is evidence that the state has not managed to provide these to all its citizens,” it said.
This step was taken in favour of two Public Interest Litigations (PILs) appealing to decriminalize begging by acknowledging Article 21 – Protection of Life and Liberty, of the constitution.
The PILs, filed by Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney, have put forth the argument against the government which enunciates that beggars should be able to use their fundamental rights in the national capital as citizens of the country. They also asked the Government to organise basic necessities such as meals and medical assistance for the economically underprivileged people in Delhi.
The central government argued that begging should not be decriminalised and said that there were enough points which prove this act of begging as an offence. According to this law, the penalty in the case of getting caught for begging was three years jail and if caught the second time the sentence can go up to ten years.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Hariom Jindal, Lawyer, Activist, said, ” It is a very good judgement by the High court as the government has failed to provide basic facilities to the poor. Now when a child is weeping due to starvation what would his parents do? If beggars are increasing day by day, it is the duty of the government to rehabilitate them.”
Mr Hariom Jindal quit his profession and started studying law at the age of 43, and after becoming a lawyer he has been working on social and civil legal proceedings. Now, he is educating poor children in slums for the last four years.
In Oct 2016, GoI and the Delhi administration had drafted a bill along with the Ministry of Social Justice which was going to decriminalize begging, rehabilitating of beggars and homeless people but it never made it to the assemble and eventually was abandoned.
Currently, 22 states including few Union Territories have their anti-begging laws, and they are following the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 given the fact that there is no central law on begging and destitution.
What is the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act?
According to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, begging is a crime. With the aspiration of curbing down the begging and matters relating to them in Bombay, this act summed up other amendments associated with beggars. The act was adopted by Union Territory of Delhi in 1960. This act aims to dissuade beggars from their illegal profession of begging, so that they may be detained, trained and eventually employed.
Punishment for begging according to anti-begging law:
- Punishment after conviction in this law is up to 3 years, given the court can reduce the sentence on being convinced that the convicted person is now rehabilitated.
- Beggars below the age of five years will be sent to a Juvenile justice tribunal.
- If anyone is found guilty for the second time for the same violation, he/she would be serving ten years of jail time.
- When a disabled person is caught begging, the court can sentence the person for a longer duration than usual for his/her betterment.