Begging in the national capital no longer to be a crime: Delhi HC declares anti-begging provisions unconstitutional
The Delhi high court on August 8, 2018, decriminalised begging in the state, striking down several provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (1959) as unconstitutional. The decision was made by a Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar.
In 2009, HRLN had filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the Act as applicable in state of Delhi. One of the primary contentions of the petition was that the anti-begging law discriminated against the poor in India and thus, violated the Constitution of India. The court had said in July, 2009, that, “We are satisfied that the case requires deeper examination,” and admitted the petition.
The case went on for several years before reaching its conclusion. In its final order of August, 2018, the court observed, “The question is simple. In our constitutional framework that promises every person the right to live with dignity, can the State criminalize begging? The social contract between the citizen and the State is a contract by which, in exchange for the citizen ceding her autonomy partially, the State promises her security over her person and a life with dignity.” (emphasis added)
Addressing the Delhi government, the court also remarked on the situation in the state, with starvation deaths being reported in the media, and said that it had not been able to ensure the bare essentials of life to its citizens. The court said, “People beg on the streets not because they wish to, but because they need to (emphasis added) ... Begging is a symptom of a disease, of the fact that the person has fallen through the socially created net. 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.”
The court agreed with the petitioners in that ‘artificial means to make beggars invisible’ would not suffice begging had to be eradicated. “A move to criminalize them will make them invisible without addressing the root cause of the problem,” it added.
Observing that “Criminalizing begging violates the most fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” the court declared as unconstitutional and struck down the provisions that treated beggary/begging as an offence for the state. These were Sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29.
The remaining provisions of the Act, which do not criminalize begging, such as Section 11 (which deals with penalty for employing or causing persons to solicit or receive alms, causing persons or children to solicit or receive alms, or using such persons as exhibits), Section 30 (which deals with seizure and disposal of animals exposed or exhibited, for obtaining or extorting alms), among others would be maintained, the court said.