The Centre has taken a stand that begging can only be decriminalised in cases where a person has been compelled to beg due to poverty.
In response to PILs seeking basic human and fundamental rights for beggars in the national capital and for decriminalising it, the Centre said it is for the respective state governments to take a call on changing the current law on begging.
On the Centre’s argument a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and C Hari Shankar wondered if “anybody beg out of compulsion or choice? Have you ever seen somebody begging out of choice?”
The central government, in an affidavit, said that at present, 20 states and 2 Union territories have either enacted their own anti-beggary legislation or adopted the legislation enacted by other states.
“Therefore, any change in the law related to beggary may require taking the view of the concerned state governments,” the affidavit submitted.
It said that begging should not be a crime if it is done because of poverty. But to verify if it is being done out of poverty or willingly by a person even if he or she is well off or has been forced into begging, it is necessary to detain him or her.
“Only after detention of such person and subsequent investigation, the cause of begging by an individual can be ascertained. Hence, the provision of detention as mentioned in the section in the (Bombay Prevention of Begging) Act is warranted,” the Centre said and sought dismissal of the petitions saying they were not maintainable.
The court listed the matter for January 9 next year. The Centre had earlier said begging will not be decriminalised, changing its stance in the high court, which had termed the move as “unfortunate”.
Petitioners Harsh Mandar and Karnika Sawhney have also sought basic amenities like proper food and medical facilities at all beggars’ homes in the city.
The bench had earlier pulled up the Centre for not amending the law to decriminalise begging and rehabilitate the beggars even after an undertaking was given by it a year ago.