Covid19 fallout: SC seeks Centre and State Govts view on dry ration, cash transfers to destitute sex workers without identity proof

The Supreme Court Monday directed the Additional Solicitor General for the Central Government and advocates appearing for State Governments to get instructions regarding the modalities for distributing monthly dry rations and cash transfers to sex workers without insisting on proof of identity.

A two-judge bench of Justices Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta was hearing an application filed by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a registered society run by sex workers in Kolkata, West Bengal, highlighting the impoverishment and destitution that sex workers in the country are facing on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its plea, the organization requested monthly dry rations to sex workers and a cash transfer to the tune of Rs. 5000 per month through the Covid-19 pandemic. It also sought an additional cash transfer to the tune of Rs 2500 for those with school-going children.

After hearing senior advocate Anand Grover for the applicant, Amicus Curiae Jayant Bhushan, ASG R.S. Suri, counsel appearing for the State Governments, the Court opined that the relief sought for in the petition needed the immediate attention of the Court.

The matter will be listed for hearing on September 29.

The application stated that the sex workers had experienced complete loss of earnings since March 2020 and continued to suffer enormous socio- economic hardships on account of Covid-19.

“After the nationwide lockdown was announced on 24/03/2020, there was no work and no income. During the months of April and May, sex workers scrimped through their meagre savings or took loans at exorbitant interest rates in order to survive. Most were dependent on the charity provided by individuals and philanthropic organisations”, the plea stated.

It added that a large number of sex workers had been excluded from aid measures due to the lack of or deficiencies in their identity documents.

In Kolkata, the plea stated, the Government’s delivery of free ration started from mid-May, however, it required the recipient to provide a valid ration card. More than 50% of sex workers in the city do not possess a ration card, the application highlighted.

It was alleged by the applicant organization that it had approached the Department of Food and Supplies, Government of West Bengal and submitted papers for ration cards for roughly 100 sex workers from the Bowbazar red light area in Kolkata, of which 48 were rejected.

“Sex workers living in red light areas were unable to submit ‘proof of residence’ since landlords do not give rent receipts, electricity bills or other documentary proof. As a result, sex workers were not able to access the PDS for relief during Covid-19”, the plea stated.

The plea also sought the court’s direction to the 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.

Additionally, it also prayed for direction to the State Labour Departments and the Unorganized Workers Social Security Board to register sex workers and provide the registered sex workers the social welfare measures that all unorganized workers are entitled to.

The plea was drawn by advocate Tripti Tandon and filed through Advocate Savita Singh.

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