The Delhi High Court struck down a legal provision that criminalises begging in the national capital. The court also mentions Delhi government can bring in an alternative legislation to curb any racket of forced begging.
The act of begging in the National Capital was made a criminal offence after the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, was extended to Delhi by a Central government amendment in 1960.
The law prescribes a penalty of three years of detention in beggar homes in case of first conviction for begging and the person can be ordered to be detained for 10 years in subsequent conviction.
In India, 20 States and two Union Territories have either enacted their own legislations or adopted the legislations enacted by other States.
The court passed the order after hearing two PILs seeking basic human and fundamental rights for beggars. The petitioners, Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney, sought basic amenities like proper food and medical facilities at all beggars’ homes in the city.
The Bench declared 25 different sections of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act as “unconstitutional” and struck them down. It said that the law does not make any distinction between types of begging: voluntary or involuntary.
The court, however, did not touch the provisions in the Act that deals with penalty for employing or causing persons to solicit or receive alms.
- The Centre had informed the High court that begging should not be a crime if it is done due to poverty.
- The court had earlier pulled up the Centre for not amending the law to decriminalise begging and rehabilitate the beggars even after an undertaking was given by it a year ago.
- 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.
- Currently, there is no central law on begging and destitution and most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which criminalises beggary or have modelled their laws on it.
- The two petitions have challenged the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act.
- A uniform law dealing with the menance of begging has to be adopted.
- Proper Rehabilitation Centres has to be provided.
- Prevention of trafficking is a must which has to be checked.