Begging: Right decision, wrong justification

The Delhi High Court has reached the correct decision following the wrong lane

Begging Right decision, wrong justification
Begging Right decision, wrong justification

Begging should be legally allowed because it is, for all its inherent dissoluteness, a victimless activity—but not it is the state’s “duty to provide a decent life to its citizens.”

Decriminalization of begging by the Delhi High Court may be the right decision, but the grounds mentioned by the judges for it ought to be critiqued and criticized.

Every section of society that the government claims to ‘help’ keeps grumbling—peasants, shopkeepers, small traders, or entrepreneurs running small & medium enterprises

While decriminalizing begging, the High Court quashed the legal provisions concerned. Begging in the national Capital was declared a crime by the extension of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, Delhi. This was done by a Central government amendment in 1960.

“The state simply cannot fail to do its duty to provide a decent life to its citizens and add insult to injury by arresting, detaining and, if necessary, imprisoning persons who beg in search for essentials of bare survival,” a Bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar said in their judgment.

While the intentions of the judges are laudable, the premises and principles on which the statement is predicated are questionable. The reason is simple: it is not the state’s “duty to provide a decent life for its citizens.” Its duty is to endure that the citizens are not hindered in their endeavours to live a decent life.

In this context, it would be pertinent to consider the introduction to the Declaration of (American) Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Ayn Rand lauded the Founding Fathers for “intellectual precision.” She wrote that the Founding Fathers “spoke of the right to the pursuit of happiness—not of the right to happiness. It means that a man has the right to take the actions he deems necessary to achieve his happiness; it does not mean that others must make him happy.”

And the government, among “others,” is the least equipped to make anybody happy anyway. Especially in India. Former American president Ronald Reagan once said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It’s truer in our country than in America.

Whichever sector of the economy or class of people our government decides to help suffers terribly. Agriculture and farmers get most ‘help’; they suffer the most. In fact, no other sector in the world gets more favourable treatment from the government than Indian agriculture—and no other sector in the world does as badly as Indian agriculture does. The government provides cheap credit, free electricity, fertilizer subsidy, procurement services, technical know-how, minimum support prices, no taxation, etc. To what effect? Almost half the workforce is engaged in farming, to contribute about one-seventh of the gross domestic product or GDP.

Every section of society that the government claims to ‘help’ keeps grumbling—peasants, shopkeepers, small traders, or entrepreneurs running small & medium enterprises. On the other hand, blessed are the ones politicians never bother to support (at least officially)—capitalists, corporate executives, high net-worth individuals or HNIs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the government enjoys the anti-Midas touch: whoever it decides to help, they find life getting tougher.

The issue of begging has to be viewed from the classical liberal perspective: a person should be allowed to say or do anything so long as they don’t hurt others

Therefore, to assert that it is the duty of the state “to provide a decent life to its citizens” is theoretically flawed and practically dangerous.

It can be argued that the term “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” appears in the American, and not the Indian, Constitution. The term doesn’t appear in our Constitution but its essence does. The Fundamental Rights to life and liberty are specifically mentioned. Further, the Supreme Court has deduced the right to livelihood, a prerequisite for happiness, implicit in the right to life.

In other words, even though our Constitution doesn’t include the term ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ the essence of the latter can be derived from the letter and interpretations of the Constitution. In the same fashion as the right to free press is not mentioned but can be derived from the Fundamental Right to freedom of expression.

The issue of begging has to be viewed from the classical liberal perspective: a person should be allowed to say or do anything so long as they don’t hurt others. Begging, like prostitution and gambling, is generally regarded as morally degrading. Nonetheless, it is a victimless activity most of the time. So, begging should be allowed subject to its effects on others. It can also be regulated so that beggars don’t bug or harass devotees, tourists, etc.

Begging should be legally allowed because it is, for all its inherent dissoluteness, a victimless activity—but not it is the state’s “duty to provide a decent life to its citizens.”

The Delhi High Court has reached the correct decision following the wrong lane.


Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He upholds freedom of expression, individual liberty, free market, and open society. He has published three books till date. His website is http://www.thehinduchronicle.com/.
Ravi Shanker Kapoor

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1 COMMENT

  1. You are wrong ,you can check who has get the Indian money for help in more quantity, they are the industrialist not the farmers even then the aid which we gives on the farmers name actually most part of that are for industrialist ,
    Don’t say anything if you don’t know the facts
    Look the all budgets how much for farmers and how much for others, we only make hipes by talkings regarding farmers, in reality we never make true efforts for them .
    Check also one thing that who are the crooks those have eaten public money ,who are ran away ,who declares themselves bankrupt,
    In future when you make comments on farmers first make your homework,never blame anyone if you don’t have knowledge,
    Don’t try to oversmart

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