NEW DELHI: Begging will no longer be a criminal offence in the national capital, the Delhi High Court ruled on Wednesday observing that begging is not a choice but the compulsion for people who have no other means to survive.
Striking down provisions of the 59-year-old Act-- Bombay Prevention of Begging Act-that criminalises begging, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said that begging is a symptom of a disease, of the fact that the person has fallen through the socially created net.
"There can be no cavil that the above are the basic and primary needs of every human being. It remains a hard reality that the State has not been able to ensure even the bare essentials of the right to life to all its citizens, even in Delhi. We find reports of starvation deaths in the newspapers and ensuring education to the 6 to 14-year-old remains a challenge. People beg on the streets not because they wish to, but because they need to," the bench said.
The court also observed that begging was a direct result of the government's failure. "The government has the mandate to provide social security for everyone, to ensure that all citizens have basic facilities, and the presence of beggars is evidence that the state has not managed to provide these to all its citizens," it said.
However, the bench said that the Delhi government was at liberty to bring in alternative legislation to curb any racket of forced begging after undertaking an empirical examination on the sociological and economic aspect of the matter.
The court made it clear that the provisions of the Act, which do not directly or indirectly criminalise begging or relate to the offence of begging, are not required to be struck down and are maintained.
The court was hearing two PILs seeking to decriminalise begging. Earlier, the court had asked how begging could be an offence in a country where the government was unable to provide food or jobs.
To this, the Central government had said there were sufficient checks and balances in the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act which criminalises begging.
The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 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. At present, there is no central law on begging and destitution but most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959.