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Ration for sex workers: Supreme Court asks govts to issue ration cards, voter ID to sex workers immediately

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The Supreme Court recently reprimanded state governments and governments of Union Territories (UTs) for not complying with its directions issued a decade ago to issue ration and identity cards to sex workers, and directed them to issue them forthwith.

The bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna said there is no reason why such directions given a decade back are still hanging fire. The right to dignity is a Fundamental Right that is guaranteed to every citizen of this country irrespective of his/her vocation, the bench said.

The bench observed that there is a bounden duty cast on the government to provide basic amenities to citizens. It asked governments and other authorities to identify sex workers from the National AIDS Control Organization list and start the modalities required in issuing them voter ID cards and ration cards.

A committee was appointed by this Court on July 19, 2011 to advise on issues relating to prevention of trafficking, rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to quit sex work and the conducive conditions for the sex workers so they can live with dignity in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution.

The bench also passed a number of orders issuing directions to the Central Government and the State Governments which are:

(a) Looking for concrete information from the states about whether the sex workers have been offered alternative livelihood, if they intended rehabilitation.

(b) Free legal assistance was to be extended to sex workers via a helpline number to be operated by state legal services authorities.

(c) Central Government directed to broaden the scope of their schemes meant for rescued victims of trafficking so as to include sex workers who sought rehabilitation.

(d) Voter Identity cards, ration cards, opening of bank accounts etc. relaxing the rules on verification of residential addresses, accessibility of these to be facilitated to the  sex workers.

(e) To provide a range of facilities including crèche, day care centres and night care centres for children of sex workers and protecting their Right to Education.

The bench had directed State Governments and Union Territories to provide dry rations to sex workers who are identified by National Aids Control Organization without insisting on proof of identity, considering the distress of sex workers during the pandemic and to relieve them from starvation.

The District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) was directed to assist the distribution of dry ration to sex workers without insisting on proof of identity.

Senior Advocate Anand Grover submitted that issuance of ration cards to all sex workers on the basis of their identification by NACO and Community Based Organizations would provide a solution to the problem.

During the pandemic, Amicus curiae Jayant Bhushan informed the court that dry rations were given to sex workers for a few months and stopped thereafter. It was emphasized that 12,291 sex workers of the 24,579 sex workers registered with NACO were not willing to avail benefits provided under the schemes.

This order was passed after taking into account the fact that it would be difficult for sex workers to produce any identity proof and emphasized on keeping their identities confidential during the process. The bench restated the same on information that only West Bengal and Maharashtra were complying with directions given in the October 2020 order.

The matter is now listed on January 10, 2022 for further hearing.

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