Plea to decriminalize begging

provisions of the statutes criminalizing the act of begging put people in a situation to make an unreasonable choice between committing a crime or not committing one and starving

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought reply from the Centre and four state governments within three weeks on a plea seeking a direction to repeal the provision, which criminalizes begging.

In February, the top court had sought response from Centre and state governments – Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar – on a petition filed by a Meerut resident Vishal Pathak contenting the sections of the statute criminalizing begging are violative of constitutional rights.

Pathak in the plea argued that the August 2018 verdict of the Delhi High Court had decriminalized begging in the national capital. He added the provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which treats begging as an offence, cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.

On Friday, a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy noted that a notice was issued in the matter to Centre and state governments on February 10, however, only Bihar has filed response.

“Although notice has been issued on February 10, 2021, a reply has been filed by the respondent – state of Bihar – only and other respondents have not yet filed their reply,” the bench said in its order. The apex court has scheduled the hearing in the matter after three weeks.

The plea, which was filed through advocate H.K. Chaturvedi, argued that the provisions of the statutes criminalizing the act of begging put people in a situation to make an unreasonable choice between committing a crime or not committing one and starving. The petitioner claimed such provisions are against the Constitution and violates Article 21, which is right to life.

The plea said: “However, the presence of beggars is evidence that the State has failed to provide these basic facilities to all its citizens, thus instead of working on its failure and examining what made people beg, criminalizing the act of beggary is irrational and against the approach of a socialist nation as embedded in the preamble of our Constitution.”

According to the plea, the total number of beggars in India is 4.13 Lakh, as per Census 2011, and the number must have increased since then.

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