How can begging be an offence in a country where the government is unable to provide food or jobs, the Delhi High Court today observed while hearing two PILs seeking to decriminalise begging. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Jusice C Hari Shankar also observed that a person begs only out of “sheer necessity” and not by choice. “You or we will not beg even if we are offered a crore of rupees. It is out of sheer necessity that some one puts out a hand to beg for food. How is begging an offence in a country where you (government) are not able to provide food or jobs,” the court said.
The central government said there were sufficient checks and balances in the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act which criminalises begging. The government had earlier told the court that begging should not be a crime if it was done due to poverty. It had also said that begging will not be decriminalised.
The PILs, by Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney, have sought basic human and fundamental rights for beggars in the national capital, apart from decriminalising begging. They have also sought basic amenities such as proper food and medical facilities at all beggars’ homes in the city. The petitioners have also challenged the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act.
The Centre and the AAP government had in October 2016 told the court that the Ministry of Social Justice had drafted a bill to decriminalise begging and rehabilitate beggars and homeless people. But, later the proposal to amend the legislation was dropped. The law prescribes a penalty of more than three years of jail in case of first conviction for begging and the person can be ordered to be detained for 10 years in subsequent conviction.
Currently, there is no central law on begging and destitution and most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which criminalises begging, or have modelled their laws on it.