The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Centre and some states to respond to a plea which has sought direction to repeal the provisions criminalising begging saying it leaves people with “unreasonable choice" of committing crime or starving. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R S Reddy issued notices and sought replies from the Centre as also Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar on the plea which claimed that sections of the statutes criminalising begging is violative of Constitutional rights.
Issue notice returnable in six weeks, the bench said, while hearing the petition filed by Meerut resident Vishal Pathak. The plea, filed through advocate H K Chaturvedi, has referred to the August 2018 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had decriminalised begging in the national capital and said that provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 which treats begging as an offence cannot sustain constitutional scrutiny.
The provisions of the statutes criminalising the act of begging puts people in a situation to make an unreasonable choice between committing a crime or not committing one and starving, which goes against the very spirit of the Constitution and violates Article 21 i.e. Right to Life, the plea filed in the top court said. Referring to the Census 2011, the plea said the total number of beggars in India is 4,13,670 and the number has increased from the last Census.
It said that government has the mandate to provide social security for everyone and ensure that all have basic facilities as embedded in Directives Principles of State Policy in the Constitution. However, the presence of beggars is evidence that the states have failed to provide these basic facilities to all its citizens, thus instead of working on its failure and examining what made people beg, criminalising the act of beggary is irrational and against the approach of a socialist nation as embedded in preamble of our Constitution, the plea said.
It said that a person, who is compelled to beg, cannot be faulted for his actions in such compelling circumstances. Furthermore, by enforcing such legislations, state is simply failing in its duty to provide a decent life to its citizens and adds 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, it said.
The plea claimed that The Abolition of Begging and Rehabilitation of Beggars Bill 2018′ was introduced in the Lok Sabha but till date this bill is not passed and is wedged in length parliamentary procedures which has resulted in thousands of poor face more hardships because of present arbitrary statutes. The petition has sought directions to declare as illegal and void all provisions, except some sections, of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, Punjab Prevention of Beggary Act, 1971, Haryana Prevention of Begging Act, 1971 and Bihar Prevention of Begging Act 1951.
It has also sought to declare all other similar Acts prevailing in any part of the country as illegal.