A perhaps positive fall-out of the gradual eclipse of our comrades from the political forefront is that the term “progressive” has discarded its political connotation, and been restored to its original meaning ~ that is forward looking.
And it is in that sense that there is reason to commend one of the final orders from Justice Gita Mittal of the Delhi High Court before she shifted to J&K where she will shed the “Acting” prefix to become Chief Justice.
Along with Justice C Hari Shankar she has taken the revolutionary step of decriminalising begging in Delhi, thus shifting the focus of curbing a social problem from the cops to those tasked with catering to the needs of the downtrodden.
No doubt that move will create certain complications and add to the headaches of the local government, but since the Chief Minister of Delhi is always lamenting his very limited authority he ought to welcome the opportunity to serve the weakest sections of society.
In fact there is need to explain to the people of Delhi why an archaic provision of law, originally enacted in Mumbai had been extended to the NCT. For technical reasons the Delhi High Court did not strike down the Bombay Police Act of 1959, surely the national capital requires laws tailor-made to its unique requirements. Hopefully the AAP-controlled Delhi Assembly will do the needful.
It was not unexpected that the police would react adversely to the court order and articulate an apprehension that begging would increase after the “law” ceased to act against the “offenders” ~ a reflection of the khaki mindset that the stick solves all problems.
The court, however, was thinking big. Its order stated that “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 imprisoning such persons who beg in search for essentials of bare survival, which is even below sustenance. A person who is compelled to beg cannot be faulted for such actions in these circumstances”. That message was addressed to the state and central governments, a grim reminder of the failure to provide the citizen his basics.
That humane reminder of what is expected of a responsible government is quite in keeping with some of Justice Gita Mittal’s earlier orders. When recently dealing with the felling of thousands of trees during the “re-development” of government housing colonies in South Delhi she rightly asked what re-development really meant, and wondered if adequate advance action had been taken to augment water supply, sewage, drainage etc in the colonies where two-storeyed buildings were being replaced by multi-storeyed monstrosities.
And asked if any measures were in hand to avert traffic congestion near AIIMS and the Safdarjang hospital. “We will not let Delhi die”, declared Justice Mittal. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court will be enriched by her presiding over its functioning.