Ready to give Aadhaar card to sex workers, UIDAI tells SC

But they have to get certificate from a gazetted officer of health departments of States or from official with NACO, it says

February 28, 2022 07:15 pm | Updated March 01, 2022 08:00 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it was willing to issue Aadhaar card to sex workers without insisting on proof of residence/identity, provided they got a certificate from a gazetted officer of the health departments of the States or from an official with the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

The suggestion came in a petition before a Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai on the lack of food security for lakhs of sex workers across the country, especially during the years of pandemic.

The court has been hearing arguments about how the authorities and community-based organisations could reach out to sex workers and provide them with ration card, voter card and Aadhaar card without disclosing their identities. Sex workers still battle social stigma even at the cost of food security.

Advocate Zoheb Hossain, for the UIDAI, submitted that it was an obligation to ensure that sections of society did not lack access to their basic rights like food because they did not have an Aadhaar card.

Justice Rao said personal information, including their identities, would have to remain confidential.

‘What about Bill?’

The court asked the Centre about a Bill it had proposed to introduce in Parliament to curb trafficking and for rehabilitation of sex workers.

“Anything happening with the Bill? Additional Solicitor Generals keep changing but there is no progress in the Bill,” Justice Rao addressed Additional Solicitor General Jayant K. Sud.

The court further directed that State governments should take steps to issue voter cards to sex workers identified by NACO and community-based organisations after the verification of their lists.

The court said the State governments should continue to distribute dry rations to sex workers without insisting on their identities.

Perusing the status reports filed by many States about the identification of sex workers and issuance of ration cards to them, the court said the figures were “not realistic”.

Case of West Bengal

Taking the case of West Bengal, the court noted that it had identified 6,227 sex workers so far.

“States which are smaller in size than you show the number of sex workers to be in the likes of 80,000 to one lakh... And you have only been able to identify 6,227? We are talking about identification for the purpose of providing them ration for survival purposes,” Justice Rao addressed advocate Raghenth Basant, for West Bengal.

He noted that even Tamil Nadu had identified over 87,000 sex workers and provided over 86,000 of them with ration cards.

Amicus curiae, advocate Pijush K. Roy, said even the red light district in Kolkata may have over 6,000 workers in it.

Mr. Basant submitted that special food coupons have been issued to sex workers who did not have ration cards. The coupons would fetch five kg of free dry rations till June 30, 2022. The State has already unrolled a digital ration card scheme. Immediate steps would be taken to fan out with the help of NACO and community-based organisations to identify more sex workers to provide them with food security.

Similarly, Maharashtra also came under the spotlight of the court. Advocate Sachin Patil, Maharashtra counsel, said the authorities have so far identified over 27,000 sex workers and 15,655 of them have been issued ration cards.

The court asked the States to submit fresh status reports in three weeks, and scheduled the next hearing after a month.

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