Begging should not be a crime if it is done due to poverty, the Centre today told the Delhi High Court which wondered if anyone begs out of compulsion or by choice.
The Centre’s stand came on two PILs seeking basic human and fundamental rights for beggars in the national capital and for decriminalising begging.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and C Hari Shankar asked, “If anybody beg out of compulsion or choice? Have you ever seen somebody begging out of choice?”
The central government, in an affidavit, said that at present, 20 states and 2 union territories have either enacted their own anti-beggary legislation or adopted the legislation enacted by the other states.
“Therefore, any change in the law related to beggary may require taking the view of the concerned state governments,” said the affidavit filed through central government standing counsel Anil Soni.
It said that begging should not be a crime if it is done because of poverty, however, in order to ascertain whether it is being done out of poverty or willingly by a person even if he or she is well off or has been forced into begging, it is necessary to detain him or her.
“Only after detention of such person and subsequent investigation, the cause of begging by an individual can be ascertained. Hence, the provision of detention as mentioned in the section in the (Bombay Prevention of Begging) Act is warranted,” the Centre said and sought dismissal of the petitions saying they were not maintainable.
The court listed the matter for January 9 next year. The Centre had earlier said begging will not be decriminalised, changing its stance in the high court, which had termed the move as “unfortunate”.
Petitioners Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney have also sought basic amenities like proper food and medical facilities at all beggars’ homes in the city.
The bench 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 Centre and the AAP government had in October last year informed 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.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for one of the petitioners, had earlier said that thousands of poor persons were detained due to operation of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, which provides drastic sentences.
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, he had said.
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.