Report No. 223
A Petition on Beggars' Human Rights
2.1 A civil writ petition (No. 117/2000) under article 32 of the Constitution filed by way of public interest litigation challenging the alleged action of the Union of India, Government of NCT of Delhi and the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, in violating the provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959, as extended to Delhi, is pending before the Supreme Court. The writ petitioner (Ms Karnika Sawhney), who happened to be a law student of the University of Delhi, undertook a research project on the subject of "Problem of beggars in Delhi".
She saw the plight of beggars housed in Beggar Homes who were being deprived of the basic essentials and amenities of life like adequate food, clean water, proper shelter and personal hygiene. According to her, the inmates were leading a mere animal existence with no proper provision of adequate drinking water, bathing, sanitation, food, clothing and clean bedding or hygienic surroundings in the shelter. The inmates also complained of extremely poor medical facilities.
2.2 The writ petition has pointed out that the concept of the right to life and livelihood is a part of the overall constitutional structure and is recognized also by various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, inter alia, declare the right of every member of society to social security and protection against unemployment and economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for the dignity and free development of his personality.
It is also of significance to highlight here that to combat the problem of beggary a scheme for beggary prevention was formulated and introduced during 1992-93 for the care, treatment and rehabilitation of beggars by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. It is essential to briefly set out its primary objectives which are as follows:
1. Providing facilities for the technical education and vocational training of beggars;
2. To encourage beggars in productive work so as to facilitate their reintegration in the society;
3. Involving voluntary welfare organizations;
4. Mobilizing community resources for training and employment.
2.3 Another scheme of assistance was to provide for establishment of work centres in the existing Beggar Homes for providing vocational training and technical education to the beggars. It is pertinent to note that since the main objective in case of Beggar Homes is the economic rehabilitation together with the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation, it is expected that the allocation of expenditure would reflect the relative importance of these objectives, but when the expenditure pattern of these bodies is examined in this light, it is found that the administrative expenses form predominantly part of the total expenditure.
2.4 The writ petition also states that there is an attitude of indifference, laxity and lack of commitment towards the assigned roles among the officials statutorily empowered with the duty to arrest beggars for protective and corrective custody. The un-arrested female beggars are deprived of access to rehabilitation which the State is required to ensure through the special institutions established under the Act.
This degree of laxity nullifies in effect, the presence of the laudatory, rehabilitative provisions in the welfare legislation. As a result, while the institutions exist they hardly serve/cater to the needs of the destitute who continue to beg on the streets.
2.5 The writ petition further states that there is a lack of transparency due to lapse on the part of governmental authorities in observing statutory provisions. There is dire need to establish more beggar institutions in Delhi and other big cities in order to provide proper and clean accommodation, adequate essential facilities and meaningful rehabilitation to the beggars.