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SC Directs States To Provide Dry Rations For Identified Sex Workers Sans Insistence On Identity Proof & File Affidavit On Benefits Accrued

Sanya Talwar
29 Sep 2020 6:43 AM GMT
SC Directs States To Provide Dry Rations For Identified Sex Workers Sans Insistence On Identity Proof & File Affidavit On Benefits Accrued
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed State Governments to provide dry rations for identified sex workers by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and State Governments sans insistence of identity proof.A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Ajay Rastogi further directed the State Governments to file an affidavit stipulating the implementation of the instant order...

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed State Governments to provide dry rations for identified sex workers by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and State Governments sans insistence of identity proof.

A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Ajay Rastogi further directed the State Governments to file an affidavit stipulating the implementation of the instant order for directions along with relevant particulars and the number of sex workers who were benefitted thereon within 4 weeks.

Further to this, the Court asked the Union government to inform in four weeks, whether it can extend financial assistance given to transgenders during pandemic, to sex workers also.

The top court passed this order while hearing a plea highlighting the distress faced by sex workers on account of the ongoing pandemic in the proceedings of Budhadev Karmaskar V. State of West Bengal & Ors., in which a panel was set up to improve the living conditions of the community.

Court noted that in 2011, an order was passed in the case of Budhadev Karmaskar, wherein it was observed that sex workers have a right to live with dignity as they are human beings and a committee was constituted by the court to look into the conditions of the sex workers in the country.

The PIL further highlights that the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India estimates that there are over 8.68 lakh female sex workers in the country and 62,137 Hijra/transgender persons in 17 states, of which, 62% are engaged in sex work.

The order comes in the backdrop of directions to Centre & State Governments by the apex Court last week, urging them to provide food and financial aid to sex workers.

"....we are of the opinion that the relief as sought for in the I.A needs immediate attention of this Court. The learned Additional Solicitor General and the learned counsel appearing for the State Governments are directed to get instructions regarding the modalities for distribution of monthly dry rations and cash transfer to the sex workers without insisting on proof of identity," the bench had remarked on the last date.

Today, Senior Advocate Anand Grover informed the Court that there existed a huge gap in identification of sex workers so as to claim reliefs which were averred in the PIL.

Court took note of the same and expressed concern regarding providing of dry rations to sex workers for their survival in light of the ongoing pandemic, as many did not possess identity proofs.

This PIL has been filed on behalf of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), the country's oldest sex workers' collective.

Appealing to the Supreme Court, which has held that:- "sex workers have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India since they are also human beings and their problems need to be addressed", the Kolkata based group highlighted that sex workers' have been left out of the COVID-19 response because of social stigma and marginalisation and are in frantic need of support.

DMSC's application has pointed out that a large number of sex workers have been excluded from aid measures due to lack of, or deficiencies in their identity documents such as Aadhar and Ration cards. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had directed the Central and State Governments to ensure access to ration cards, voters identity cards and bank accounts, based on recommendations of a Court-appointed Panel in 2011 looking into rehabilitation and empowerment of sex workers.

The Application by the Collective has also suggested the following reliefs:-

  1. Provide sex workers with relief, till the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of monthly dry rations, cash transfer to the tune of Rs. 5000 per month, additional cash transfer to the tune of Rs 2500 for those with school-going children, Covid-19 prevention measures such as masks, soaps, medicines and sanitizers delivered through Targeted Intervention Projects/ State AIDS Control Societies and Community Based Organizations
  2. Direct coordination and monitoring of Covid-19 relief efforts at the Centre and State levels through committees comprising representatives of health and social justice/welfare departments, the National Legal Services Authority and the State Legal Services Authorities as well as Community Based Organisations
  3. Direct the State Labour Departments and the Unorganized Workers Social Security Board to register sex workers and provide them social welfare measures that all unorganized workers are entitled to.

DMSC also stated in in the plea that it had consulted and received inputs from various Community Based Organisations and NGOs working with sex workers across the country. The application cites a 5-state assessment undertaken by Taaras, a coalition of women in sex work and their organizations among 1,19,950 sex workers to draw attention to the challenges of the community in accessing critical services during the COVID-19, which included:-

Lack of access to social protection services: Sex workers do not have access to social protection measures such as pension, health benefits and labour rights. The five-state consultation shows that only 5% of sex workers had received a bank transfer of Rs 1000/- on the basis of a Labour Card for registered workers. Barring Tamil Nadu, where CBOs have managed to obtain labour cards for sex workers by enrolling them as domestic workers, vegetable vendors, street hawkers etc., no other State has extended this facility to persons engaged in sex work;

Lack of access to essential services: Around 48% members did not receive ration through PDS (Public Distribution System). Out of 26,527 members who reported illness, around 97% (25,699) are unable to access primary care services - both public and private. 20% of members have children attending private schools and of them, 95% (23,425) are not able to pay the schools fees. Of the approximate 61% of members who live in rental housing, 83% are unable to pay rent and electricity bills;

Impact on livelihood: Almost 71 % (81,433) members don't have any other source of income to meet their essential day to day needs. Even those who have some income are having difficulty in securing three meals a day for the past four months.

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