‘Won’t take elitist view’: SC on plea to stop begging amid COVID

Saying that begging was a function of poverty and a socio-economic issue, the Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down a prayer to restrain begging in public places and streets amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah was considering a PIL filed by one Kush Kalra seeking to restrain beggars and vagabonds or those who are homeless from begging at traffic junctions, in markets and public places to avoid the spread of COVID-19 pandemic across India and to rehabilitate them.

At the outset, the bench said that it cannot accept the prayer to stop begging.

“Your first prayer is to restrain people from being on the streets. Why do people beg on the street? It’s a function of poverty. As the Supreme Court, we will not take an elitist view. They have no choice. Nobody wants to beg”, Justice Chandrachud said.

“This is a wider issue of social welfare policy from the Government. We can’t say that “keep them away from our eyes”. If we issue notice, it would mean we want that”, he added.

At that juncture, Senior Advocate Chinmoy Sharma, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the actual prayer of the petitioner was to rehabilitate the beggars and to ensure vaccination for them to protect them from the pandemic.

The bench agreed to issue notice on the second prayer in the petition seeking rehabilitation and vaccination for beggars.

The bench issued notice to the Union of India and the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi on the second prayer.

The order dictated by the bench reads as follows :

“The manner in which prayer A has been drafted seems to indicate to restrain beggars/vagabonds from traffic junctions and streets from spreading COVID-19. The latter part is to rehabilitate them so as to ensure basic amenities are available to them. At the outset, we have indicated that the Court is not inclined to countenance a prayer seeking a direction in the above terms.

The reason why people are required to take to the streets to beg is to eke out an elementary livelihood in the absence of education and employment. It’s a social-economic problem and cannot be remedied in this way.

In view of the clarification issued, we are inclined to issue notice. However, we grant liberty to the Petitioners to amend the prayer accordingly. Issue notice. Immediate issue is to ensure vaccination of the persons and that the facilities for pandemic are available. We direct the Union and Delhi to file a response on how to deal with this human situation. Solicitor-General can assist the Court”

The Court will hear the matter after two weeks.