The Delhi High Court on Wednesday decriminalised begging in the national capital, saying provisions penalising the act were unconstitutional and deserved to be struck down.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the inevitable consequence of this decision would be that prosecution under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act against persons alleged to have committed the offence of begging would be liable to be struck down.
The court said the Delhi government is 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 bench said the provision which treats begging as an offence or deals with ancillary issues like power of officers to deal with this offence, as extended to Delhi, “are unconstitutional and are struck down”.
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The court made it clear that the provision 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.
On May 16, the court had asked how begging could be an offence in a country where the government was unable to provide food or jobs.
The High Court was considering two PILs seeking to decriminalise begging.
The Central government had said there were sufficient checks and balances in the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act which criminalises begging.
The government had earlier told the court that begging should not be a crime if it was done due to poverty. It had also said begging will not be decriminalised.
The PILs, by Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney, have sought basic human and fundamental rights for beggars in the national capital, apart from decriminalising begging.
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They have also sought basic amenities such as proper food and medical facilities at all homes for beggars in the city.
The petitioners have also challenged the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act.
The Centre and the AAP government had in October 2016 told the court that the Ministry of Social Justice had drafted a bill to decriminalise begging and rehabilitate beggars and homeless people. But the proposal to amend the legislation was later dropped.
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.
Currently, there is no central law on begging and destitution and most states have adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which criminalises begging, or have modelled their laws on it.