The fate of Delhi government’s ambitious plan to send back beggars from neighbouring states — who form a major chunk of the 60,000 beggars in the city — now hangs in balance.
On Thursday, Justice SK Kaul and Justice Ajit Bharihoke, who had been initiating tough steps to curb the menace and ordered their repatriation, decided not to hear the case any further on the request of the Centre and transferred the matter to Chief Justice AP Shah’s court.
It comes close on the heels of Justice Shah, who is hearing a divergent public interest litigation (PIL) seeking decriminalisation of begging, criticising the Delhi government for taking steps to send back beggars of other states and comparing it to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) anti-migrants campaign.
The repatriation, aimed at presenting a “clean face” of the city before the Commonwealth Games, was being taken up on an urgent basis with two high-level meetings discussing the modalities, including their rehabilitation in native states.
Officials of the Centre, state, police and lawyers representing them had been in a quandary with two courts taking divergent stands on the same issue.
Jatan Singh, the Centre’s counsel, conveyed the confusion before Justice Kaul’s bench on Thursday. He said that while one bench ordered the repatriation, the other bench opposed it. Thus, clubbing of the hearing was essential to avoid conflicting decisions.
Justice Kaul’s bench had ordered mobile courts to prosecute beggars. Two such courts are already functional.
Justice Shah is hearing a PIL filed by a beggar, Shanti Devi, supported by well-known social worker Harsh Mander and eminent human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves
Contending that a person who begs for living cannot be treated as a criminal, the PIL questions the constitutional validity of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, in force in Delhi which criminalised begging. The PIL says it runs contrary to the rights to equality, life and personal liberty.