New Delhi, Aug. 2: The government today unveiled a draft bill that proposes the decriminalisation of begging.
The Persons in Destitution (Protection, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, will cover the rights of all destitutes - homeless, persons with mental and physical disabilities, beggars, old and the infirm -who are above the age of 18 and in a state of poverty or abandonment arising from economic or social deprivation and sustained unemployment.
Begging is currently a crime under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. Any person found begging can be sent to a shelter home or even jail without trial for three to ten years.
Under the draft bill, employing a child for begging and any form of organised or syndicate or forced beggary will be a crime punishable under the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code. But the persons found begging will be sent to a rehabilitation centre, for which states have been asked to make budgetary allocations.
The bill also proposes to establish separate rehabilitation centres for women and differently abled destitutes. It suggests that existing shelters be upgraded to provide comprehensive rehab services.
According to the draft bill, states will be required to set up outreach and mobilisation units in districts and conduct surveys to map areas and identify persons in destitution, create awareness among them and help them procure documents required to get the benefits of any such scheme or legislation.
States would also have to establish rehabilitation centres to provide vocational training or skill development for such people.
"Each centre will be adequately staffed and supported by qualified persons such as doctors, social workers, counsellors, vocational training instructors etc. The state government may establish separate rehabilitation centres for women and differently abled destitutes.
"The existing shelters running for the destitutes and homeless will be upgraded in such a manner that it provides comprehensive services for their rehabilitation," the bill, put up on the social justice ministry website for public consultation, said.
The bill also proposes to provide emotional and psychological support services, for which states would have to set up counselling units attached to each rehab centre.
The rehab centres will counsel destitutes and help them opt for vocational training and engage in sustainable activities aimed at their reintegration in mainstream society.
The state will also constitute a monitoring and advisory board to coordinate implementation of the schemes and advise the government on matters related to care, protection, welfare and rehabilitation of destitutes.
Under the draft bill, the district welfare officer, department of social welfare or the department handling the issues of destitutes and beggary in states shall be responsible for the supervision, monitoring and coordination of the implementation of this act in the districts. The director of social welfare shall be responsible at the state level.
The bill, however, is a model legislation that has to be adopted and notified by states. Official figures show there are 4,13,670 beggars -2.2 lakh males and 1.91 lakh females - in the country.