In Maharashtra, Govt Aid for Sex Workers During Pandemic Fails to Reach Most in Need

While the scheme covers a very small portion of Mumbai's total number of sex workers, a lack of identity proofs have come in the way of cash transfers to them as well.

New Delhi: A Maharashtra government’s decision to provide monetary aid and five kilograms of pulse rations to sex workers in Mumbai every month until the pandemic is over has failed to cover the larger population of sex workers, Indian Express has reported.

The sudden announcement of the lockdown to combat the pandemic along with rules of physical distancing had left several sex workers out of work and a source of livelihood. Across India, reports arrived of crushing poverty in red light areas. In September, a collective of 65,000 sex workers under the banner of the Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee in Bengal had approached the Supreme Court citing that they had been facing a severe crunch in finances.

Senior advocate Anand Grover had argued that a survey among 1.2 lakh sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana found that 96% of of them had lost their source of earning in the pandemic.

The Supreme Court had directed all the states to provide dry rations to sex workers who are identified by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and legal services authorities, without insisting on any proof of identity.

Also read: Ground Report: The Sudden Lockdown Has Dried Up Sex Workers’ Incomes Overnight

However, while the Thackeray government’s announcement in October was welcomed by all quarters, NGO workers have told Express that a lack of identity proofs, bank accounts and ration cards among sex workers has stood in the way of them receiving the benefits of the scheme.

The Maharashtra government had announced that every sex worker will “receive Rs 5,000 per month along with three kg of wheat and two kg of rice. Children of sex workers who go to school will receive Rs 2,500 per month to support their online education,” according to Express. The money would be taken out of the state’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Consequently, the state women and child development (WCD) department had prepared a list of 5,600 sex workers and their 1,592 children in Mumbai.

However, while the dry ration was indeed distributed without insistence of identification proof, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s orders, the government has reportedly been insisting on Aadhaar number and bank account details for the cash transfer every month. Officials have said that this is necessary to ensure that there is no duplication.

This puts those sex workers who are not associated with any NGOs – which can give them referral letters – in a position where they cannot avail themselves of the cash benefit.

Express further notes that while data with Mumbai District Aids Control Society, which functions under the National Aids Control Society, shows there are 14,000 sex workers registered in Mumbai, the scheme has inscrutably shortlisted fewer than half of them.