Anti-begging drive in Capital’s select areas a non-starter

  • Harish V. Nair, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2009 12:37 IST
The ultimatum given by judges in courtroom No. 33 of the Delhi High Court to various authorities for ridding the city’s prime areas of beggars lapsed on August 5.

And yet, nothing has changed.

Giving a 15 day deadline on July 21, a Bench of Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice Ajit Bharihoke had slammed the Delhi Police, traffic cops and Social Welfare Department for doing little to combat the problem.

“It’s the responsibility of the respondents (the three authorities) to take necessary action...,” the Bench had said.
The whole idea behind the Bench’s directive was to present a ‘clean face’ of the Capital before the Commonwealth Games. There are an estimated 60,000 beggars in Delhi.

Areas to be cleared of beggars in the first phase were Connaught Place, India Gate, major traffic junctions, ISBTs and railway stations.

Ironically, it was the Delhi police which identified the areas itself and assured the court that these would be treated as “zero-tolerance zones” for begging by invoking the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 in force in Delhi.

The court was told special anti-begging squads would be deployed to round up beggars. Those caught will be produced in a mobile court, to be functional from July 1.

Fresh PIL to rescue?

With the court breathing down the neck of the authorities, beggars may have feared a crackdown.

But they have reasons to cheer as another division bench, headed by Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah — who authored the historic judgment of decriminalisation of gay sex — in Courtroom No. 1 has admitted a fresh Public Interest Litigation filed by a beggar, Shanti Devi, operating near Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place, seeking to decriminalise begging.

It is supported by well-known social worker Harsh Mander and eminent human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves.

“My children slept on the footpath hungry. I could either die or beg. One day I was picked up by police and spent 15 days in jail,” Devi has said in the PIL.

“If a person is destitute and begs for living, such a person cannot be treated as a criminal and arrested,” the PIL says.

 

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