The Delhi high court on Wednesday decriminalised begging, striking down as “unconstitutional” the provisions which made it an offence. The court also said that criminalising begging violates the most fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“The inevitable sequitur to our decision would be that all prosecutions, under the Act against persons alleged to have committed the offence of begging, would be liable to be struck down,” a bench of the acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said.
In her last judgment as the acting chief justice of the Delhi high court, Justice Gita Mittal said, “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.”
Delhi Prevention of Begging Rules, 1960, formulated under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, makes begging an offence. Under this offence, beggars were often picked up and produced before the courts from where they sent to beggar homes.
The 23-page judgment came on two pleas, challenging various sections of the Bombay Begging Act which was adopted by the Union Territory of Delhi in 1960.
The bench said that they are spared the necessity of striking down the entire Act and dealt with 25 sections which either treat begging as an offence committed by the beggar or deal with ancillary issues such as powers of officers to deal with the said offence among others.
“These provisions either treat begging as an offence committed by the beggar, or deal with ancillary issues such as powers of officers to deal with the said offence, the nature of enquiry to be conducted therein, punishments and penalties to be awarded for the offence, the institutions to which such “offenders” could be committed and procedures following the awarding of sentence for committing the said offence.
“These provisions, in our view, cannot sustain constitutional scrutiny and deserve, therefore, to be struck down,” it said.
While striking down the provisions under the Act to criminalise begging, the court also slammed the government for its failure to ensure the bare essentials of the right to life to all its citizens, even in Delhi, the national Capital.
“We find reports of starvations deaths in the newspapers and ensuring education to the 6 to 14 year old remains a challenge,” the court said.
The bench, however, said that the state is at liberty to bring in alternative legislation to curb any racket of forced begging after undertaking an empirical examination on the sociological and economic aspects of the matter.
“If the State wishes to criminalise specific types of forced beggary, it has to first think out a clear factual basis and impact thereof to pass a well thought legislation after due application of mind and being mindful of the rights provided under the Constitution of India,” it said.