Among the other shortcomings in our country, such as those related to healthcare, the pandemic has turned the spotlight on beggary. While conceding to the immediate need of vaccinating the homeless, the Supreme Court on Tuesday took the humane angle of acute poverty, the prime reason for beggary, rather than the ‘elitist view’ projected in the plea seeking the removal of beggars from public places to contain the spread of Covid-19. Underlying the sad fact that poor people resort to alms-seeking in streets not out of choice but due to compulsion, the court favoured their rehabilitation and a long-term solution to the grave socio-economic issue.
As per the 2011 Census, there are over 4 lakh beggars in India. However, there are few facilities to help uplift them from extreme depravity and, ultimately, eradicate the menace. The homes set up to improve the lot of this huge and vulnerable segment and equip them with vocational skills more often than not have abysmal living conditions. On the contrary, their numbers are shockingly increasing as begging has become an organised and dubious business, controlled by mafia and gangs of human traffickers. Statistics say a staggering 40,000 children are abducted every year. Many of them end up being violated, maimed, abused, drugged and forced into begging.
These rackets must be addressed urgently. Even as the mafia dons need to be punished and their dens of crime demolished, due diligence must be paid to sift the victims, the destitute and truly poor who are forced to beg for survival. Thankfully, the judicial and legislative stand tilts towards a compassionate view. The Delhi High Court, in 2018, decriminalised begging, saying that treating it as an offence did not tackle its root cause. Observing that provisions which criminalise begging were violative of constitutional rights, a plea to repeal them in four states, including Punjab and Haryana, is pending in the SC. Expressing the same sentiment is the Abolition of Begging and Rehabilitation of Beggars Bill 2018. Parliament must expedite its passage to alleviate the sufferings of poverty-stricken people.
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