Delhi HC finally decriminalises begging | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 21, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 21, 2018

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Delhi HC finally decriminalises begging

People beg on the 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. Begging is a symptom of a disease, of the fact that the person has fallen through the socially created net,” appeared in a judgment delivered on 8 August by a bench headed by Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar of Delhi High Court.

The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act came into force in 1960, criminalising begging. In Harsh Mander v Union of India, and Karnika Sawhney v Union of India, the constitutionality of the Act was challenged. The cases have been pending since 2000.

Despite 58 years of the Act's enforcement in Delhi,it has not been possible to eradicate begging in public places. Apart from Delhi, 20 states and one Union Territory have either enacted their own legislation or adopted the legislation enacted by other states to ban beggary. Therefore, it became pertinent to ask what is wrong with the legislation which failed to achieve its objectives.

The judgment declared many provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, as extended to Delhi, as unconstitutional. All prosecutions under the Act against persons alleged to have committed the offence of begging were liable to be struck down, the Court held.

The bench rightly understood the issue in terms of the fundamental right to live with dignity guaranteed to all the persons by the Constitution under Article 21. It is unfair to ask someone who has been deprived basic necessities intrinsic to the right to life, for no fault of theirs, not to communicate such deprivation to others in society. As per asking people for help and letting others know about one's poverty and vulnerability through soliciting, the court observed that soliciting, as a verbal request,  comes under the right to free speech and expression, and the Act imposes unreasonable restrictions on soliciting and expressing poverty and vulnerability.

The social contract between the citizen and the State is one by which, in exchange for the citizen ceding her autonomy partially, the State promises her security over her person and a life with dignity, the bench reasoned. The bench explained thus: “The state simply cannot fail to do its duty to provide a decent life to its citizens and add insult to injury by arresting, detaining and, if necessary, imprisoning such persons, who beg, in search for essentials of bare survival, which is even below sustenance. A person who is compelled to beg cannot be faulted for such actions in these circumstances.”



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