Delhi High Court has declared 25 sections of Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 which have been extended to Delhi, as “unconstitutional”. With this, it has struck down legal provision criminalising begging in national capital. The court’s order came on PILs which had sought decriminalisation of begging in capital and beggar by challenging provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act. The PILs had argued that poverty can never be crime and if a person is destitute and begs for living, such person cannot be treated as criminal.
Delhi High Court Ruling
The court observed that people beg on streets not because they wish to, but because they need to. Begging is their last resort to subsistence as they have no other means to survive. It also held that begging is symptom of disease, of fact that person has fallen through socially created net. Government has mandate to provide social security for everyone, to ensure that all citizens have basic facilities and presence of beggars is evidence that state has not managed to provide these to all its citizens.
Criminalising begging violates most fundamental rights of some of most vulnerable people in our society. People in this stratum do not have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter and health, and in addition, criminalising them denies them the basic fundamental right to communicate and seek to deal with their plight. State can bring in alternative legislation to curb rackets of forced begging, after undertaking an empirical examination on the sociological and economic aspects of the matter.
The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act prescribes penalty of more than 3 years of jail in case of first conviction for begging and person can be ordered to be detained for 10 years in subsequent conviction. At present, there is no central law on begging and destitution but most states have adopted Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. This law functions as derivative figure for all state anti-begging laws. 20 States and two Union Territories have either enacted their own legislations or adopted legislations enacted by other State.