'Right to Dignity Irrespective of Vocation': SC Orders Govts to Issue ID Cards to Sex Workers

The court was hearing a plea on the destitution faced by sex workers during the pandemic and slammed governments for not following directions issued by the SC a decade ago.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has directed the Union and state governments and Union Territories to begin immediately the process of issuing Aadhaar cards, ration cards and voter identity cards to sex workers – observing that fundamental rights are guaranteed to every citizen irrespective of vocation.

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.

On September 29, 2020, the apex court had asked the Union government and others to provide dry ration to them without insisting on their identity proof.

A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna noted that directions of the apex court on providing ration cards to the sex workers were passed in 2011 but are yet to be implemented.

“As this Court has directed the State Governments and the Union Territories to issue ration cards and identity cards to sex workers almost a decade back, there is no reason as to why such direction has not been implemented till now,” the court observed, according to LiveLaw.

“Right to dignity is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to every citizen of this country irrespective of his/her vocation. There is a bounden duty cast on the government to provide basic amenities to the citizens of this country. The State Governments/Union Territories and other authorities are directed to commence the process of issuance of ration cards/ Voters Identity cards immediately to sex workers from the list that is maintained by NACO,” the court added.

The National AIDS Control Organisation or NACO, and state AIDS control societies have and are in the process of preparing lists of sex workers after verifying the information provided to them by community-based organisations.

Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, who is the court’s amicus curiae and is assisted by advocate Piyush Kanti Roy had referred to some affidavits filed by the state governments and submitted that the top court’s directions were not being implemented.

Dry ration, which was distributed for a few months, was stopped after a while, he noted, according to LiveLaw.

The court has asked for a status report.

“The status report related to issuance of ration cards, voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards to the sex workers be filed in a period of four weeks from today and in the meanwhile, state governments and UTs are directed to continue distribution of dry ration to sex workers without insisting on ration cards and other proofs of identity as mentioned in earlier orders,” it said.

The bench, which said that the copy of the order be sent to state and district legal services authorities for necessary action, also asked the government to keep the names and identity of sex worker confidential while preparing the various ID cards.

The top court has been passing various orders to ensure the wellbeing of sex workers during the pandemic, including calling for government assistance to offer them other livelihood opportunities.

(With PTI inputs)