The Chhattisgarh High Court has issued notices on a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of the Chhattisgarh Bhiksha Vritti Nivaran Adhiniyam 1973 and the Chhattisgarh Bhiksha Vritti Nivaran Niyam, 1977 that have the effect of criminalizing beggary in the state.
The bench comprising Chief Justice PR Ramachandran Menon and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu has granted the state four weeks time to file its reply.
The Petitioner, Advocate Aman Saxena, states that the impugned Act loosely defines "beggary" to give it an extremely wide and ambiguous ambit and once individuals fall within its clutches, the Act effectively renders them "invisible" by confining them to Certified Institutions after a truncated, summary judicial procedure.
This mechanism, he said, "is based on a philosophy of first criminalising poverty, and then making it invisible by physically removing "offenders" from public spaces. Effectively, it places a cordon sanitaire around the poor and the "undesirable", keeping them from accessing spaces reserved for the use of "good" citizens. They get left behind on the constitutional guarantees of pluralism and inclusiveness."
This is contended to be violative of a citizen's right to equality, freedom of speech and expression and right to life with utmost dignity propounded under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Freedom of Speech
The Petitioner submitted that begging is a communicative activity and a form of speech and expression. It cannot be termed as a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).
"19(2) restrictions can only be imposed upon satisfaction of one of the eight reasons enumerated in the clause i.e. in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, friendly relations with a foreign state, public order, decency morality or in relation to contempt of courts, defamation or incitement of an offence. There exists no proximate relation between the Act and the object sought to be achieved.
The curtailment of freedom of speech and expression of beggars is disproportionate to the situation sought to be addressed and therefore impermissible under 19 (2)," he said
Freedom of Movement
It was further argued that Article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution grants freedom of movement to Indian citizens to move freely throughout the territory of India and 19(1)(e) provides right to reside in any part of India. However, Section 2(a) of the impugned Act specifically restricts access to public places.
"Public places by its very definition are meant for enjoyment of all citizens and incorporate within it the right to occupy and use them. The movement of poor and marginalized cannot be restricted under the pretext of perceived nuisance and visual annoyance to a certain class and section of the society," he said.
Right to Equality and Equal Protection of Laws
The Petitioner pointed out that the impugned Act engulfs both voluntary begging to sustain oneself and forced begging under possible organized syndicates under the broad head of begging.
"Such classification is irrational, unreasonable and discriminatory. The consequence of both licensed and unlicensed begging is seeking alms for charity. It has no intelligible differentia. Similarly, those left without alternative options to survival and those forced into begging by organized syndicates are put together under the same head. This too fails the classification test," he submitted.
Right to Life with Dignity
It has been asserted that denial of Right to beg will push the marginalized further towards deprivation. Reliance was placed on recent decision of Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Suhail Rashid Bhat v. State ofJ&K & Ors, which struck down a similar law in J&K. Quoting from that decision, it was said :
"The criminalization of begging, undeniably adversely impacts the most vulnerable people in the society i.e., that group of people who do not have access to basic essentialities as food, shelter, health and criminalization of begging ignores the reality that persons who are begging are the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized in the society."
The plea further states that the impugned Act is substantially similar to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, as adopted and extended to the NCT of Delhi, which was struck down by the Delhi High Court in Harsh Mander v.Union of India.
Thus, it has been prayed that even the Chhattisgarh High Court should do away with an Act based on "vicious colonial logic".
Click Here To Download Petition