SC raps UP for delay in identifying sex workers for providing them rations amid pandemic

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New Delhi, Oct 28 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government for 'delay' in identifying sex workers for providing them dry rations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said there should not be any further delay as it is a 'question of someone's survival'.

The apex court, which directed all states and union territories (UTs) to implement its September 29 directions and ensure that dry rations are provided to sex workers identified by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and legal services authorities, told the counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh that being a welfare state this matter does not brook delay.

'This is a matter which does not brook delay. It is a question of someone's survival,' a bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao told the lawyer representing Uttar Pradesh.

'If you are saying you are unable to identify them even after four weeks then this shows the capability of the state. This looks like lip service. You tell us about the number of identified persons,' the bench, also having Justices Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi, said.

'Why should you delay this matter? We are a welfare state, don't delay this,” the bench told the counsel representing Uttar Pradesh.

The bench was hearing a plea which has raised the issue of problems being faced by sex workers on account of the pandemic.

Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, assisting the apex court as an amicus curiae in the matter, referred to the affidavit filed by Uttar Pradesh and said they are making efforts to give rations to sex workers without disclosing their identity.

Referring to the affidavit, Bhushan said around 27,000 sex workers are registered by NACO in Uttar Pradesh and as per the September 29 order, they have to be given dry rations.

The counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh said they are in the process of identifying sex workers and most of them already have ration card and are being provided ration.

The bench observed that the state should take assistance of NACO and the district legal services authority in this process.

Besides Uttar Pradesh, the top court was also informed about the affidavits filed by states including Maharashtra, Assam and Nagaland.

Bhushan, while referring to the affidavit filed by Maharashtra, said that eight district collectors out of 36 districts in the state have given report on distribution of dry rations.

When he referred to the quantity of dry rations like sugar and pulse which were distributed in different districts of Maharashtra, the bench said, 'There is no uniformity in distribution.' 'You tell us what are the schemes you have for other destitute in the state. The particulars which you have given shows there is no uniformity in distribution,' the bench told advocate Sachin Patil, who appeared for Maharashtra.

When Patil said he would communicate to the department concerned that there should be uniformity in distribution, the bench said, “Not only uniformity but it should be reasonable also.' Similarly, Bhushan told the bench that as per affidavit filed by Assam, NACO has identified around 11,000 sex workers in 19 districts there.

He said as per Nagaland's affidavit, they have identified 5,315 sex workers.

When the counsel appearing for Nagaland told the bench about some technical difficulty in distribution as the system is fully computerised there, the bench said, “If it is online the it will be faster.' 'Larger states have implemented it. It is now four weeks since we gave the direction. You are still at the stage of identification. If you will take refuge under computerisation, it is going to take a year. You do whatever you want but don’t delay this,” the bench said.

“We have passed these directions as we are aware that there is serious problem. It is about their survival. It is a question of giving them ration and you should not delay it,” it said, adding, “It is a humane problem”.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for the applicant, said some of states have given no data about number of sex workers and also about the rations provided to them.

He said that standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by NACO ensure confidentiality but there is no data for sex workers who are aged over 40.

The bench, which took note of Grover's submissions, said that it would issue general directions to all the states to ensure that dry rations in given to sex workers identified by NACO and district or state legal services authority.

The bench, which directed that states would follow the NACO’s SOP and commence distribution of dry rations, said that states and UTs would file compliance affidavit within four weeks on the issue.

At the fag end of hearing, the counsel appearing for Manipur raised the issue of financial constraint faced by the state.

The bench observed that northeastern states rely on central funds and asked the counsel appearing for Manipur to give representation to the Centre on this issue.

Appearing for an NGO, Grover had earlier argued that a survey among 1.2 lakh sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana found that 96 per cent of them had lost their source of earning in the pandemic.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by NGO Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, which has highlighted the destitution faced by sex workers on account of COVID-19, and sought relief measures for over nine lakh female and transgender sex workers across India. PTI ABA MNL SJK SMN