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Provision that criminalised beggary by transgender people removed from bill

A contentious provision that criminalised begging by transgender people has been removed from the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, which was cleared by the Union Cabinet last week.

Another provision that made transgender people subject themselves to certification by a district screening committee to be acknowledged as a transgender, has also been struck out.

Section 19 under chapter VIII (Offenses and Penalties) of the Bill earlier read as, “Whoever compels or entices a transgender person to indulge in the act of begging or other similar forms of forced or bonded labour other than any compulsory service for public purposes imposed by government” shall be punished with imprisonment not less than six months but which may extend to two years and with fine.

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The word “begging” has now been omitted from the provision while the rest of the content remains the same, said a senior official from the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry. The previous provision of the bill which criminalised begging had drawn flak from the community members who said that it had long been the primary source of their income. They also said that bringing in such a legislation would take away their source of living without offering an alternative.

In August last year, the Delhi High Court quashed provisions in the law that made begging a punishable offence, saying that criminalising begging is a wrong approach to deal with the underlying causes of the problem. The act of begging in the national capital was made a criminal offence after the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, was extended to Delhi by a Central government amendment in 1960.

According to sources in the ministry, the secretary last month held a meeting with members of the community and other stakeholders after which provisions were amended. The provision that proposed that transgender people will be subject to certification by a District Screening Committee to be acknowledged as a transgender, has also been struck out.

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According to the new provision, a transgender person may make an application to the district magistrate to obtain a certificate of identity and the DM shall issue to the applicant an identity certificate as transgender person on the basis of the rules which will be formed once the Bill becomes an Act, the senior ministry official explained.

According to the community members, the clause that transgender people will be subject to certification by a District Screening Committee violated the Supreme Court verdict which states that the only thing needed to acknowledge a person’s gender identity is their word for it.

The committee comprised chief medical officer, district social welfare officer, a psychologist or psychiatrist, a representative of transgender community, and an officer of the appropriate government nominated by that government.

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, which provides a mechanism for social, economic, and educational empowerment of transgenders by defining their identity and rights to prohibit discrimination against them.

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The bill will benefit transgender people, mitigate the stigma, discrimination, and abuse against this marginalised section of the society, the ministry has said. The bill will be introduced in the ensuing session of Parliament, officials said.

Passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, which aims to empower the community by defining and protecting their rights, is one of the priorities of the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry in the first 100 days agenda of the second term of the Narendra Modi government, an official source said.

The bill prohibits discrimination against a transgender person in education, employment, and healthcare. It directs the Central and state governments to provide welfare schemes in these areas.

Offences like compelling a transgender person to beg, denial of access to a public place, physical and sexual abuse, etc. would attract up to two years imprisonment and a fine.

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