NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and four states, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, to file their response within three weeks on a plea seeking a direction to repeal the provisions criminalising begging.
A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy noted in its order that though a notice was issued on the plea on February 10 this year, only Bihar has so far filed its response in the matter.
“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. Let reply be filed within three weeks,” the bench said in its order passed on Friday.
The apex court has posted the matter for hearing after three weeks.
The top court had in February sought a response from the Centre, and the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar on the plea which has claimed that the sections of the statute criminalising begging are violative of constitutional rights.
The plea filed by Meerut resident Vishal Pathak 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 put 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,” said the plea, filed through advocate HK Chaturvedi.
Referring to the Census 2011, the plea has said that the total number of beggars in India is 4,13,670 and the number has increased from the last census.
It said that the government has the mandate to provide social security to everyone and ensure that all have basic facilities, as embedded in the Directives Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.
“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, criminalising the act of beggary is irrational and against the approach of a socialist nation as embedded in the preamble of our Constitution,” the plea has claimed.
It said that a person, who is compelled to beg due to certain circumstances, cannot be faulted for his actions.
The plea has claimed that ‘The Abolition of Begging and Rehabilitation of Beggars Bill 2018′ was introduced in Lok Sabha but “till date, this bill is not passed and is wedged in length parliamentary procedures, that has resulted in thousands of poor facing 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.