Over a month since the financial aid of Rs 5,000 each and 5 kg dry ration to sex workers for three months from October to December was announced by the state government, scores of these women are still stuck at level zero and are struggling to open a bank account preventing many sex workers from availing the financial aid.
It's already the second week of January and many women are still awaiting the financial aid announced in November last year.
NGOs representing them have now appealed to the state government to intervene and help so that genuinely intended beneficiaries (sex workers) do not miss out on the aid.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s decision to provide financial help to sex workers was a welcomed by sex workers and NGO's working with them, as they were facing an unprecedented financial crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However in November, the NGOs pointed out a hurdle that the sex workers were facing —many of them do not have an active bank account and as per the state government resolution, the sum of Rs 5,000 per month would only be disbursed through banks. Also, the criteria of possessing identity cards issued by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) too have left many confused.
Prerana, an NGO that works in the red-light districts of Mumbai Kamathipura and Falkland Road, has registered 500-plus sex workers attached with their organisation, in three district offices in Mumbai City, Mumbai Suburbs and Thane as beneficiaries for the scheme.
However, according to Priti Patkar, director of Prerana, hardly 10 per cent of the total sex workers they had registered have a bank account and Aadhaar cards.
"The best thing about this scheme is that this is a direct beneficiary transfer scheme, we appreciate it. In past one month, some of these women have managed to open their bank accounts while the majority of them are still struggling to do so. Not having a bank account is one problem, but struggling to open a bank account is another issue. It should be easier for these women to open a bank account under the Jan Dhan Yojana which does not need minimum balance," Patkar said.
She added, "A list of 384 women from Kamathipura and 205 from Falkland had been prepared. As many as 12 women known to us have received the relief aid. The government has assured that all women will get. They are regularly meeting these women and us to ensure that no genuine case is left out."
On the criteria of having identity cards issued by NACO, Patkar said, "It is a known fact that the identity of many women registered with NACO is not true. Hence there are possibilities that names on Aadhaar card or bank account and NACO identity cards are different.
With the state making bank account and Aadhaar card mandatory to avail the direct benefit transfer, of the 14,000 estimated commercial sex workers in the city, the Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS) – which is making a list of beneficiaries – has managed to come up with only 5,600 names for registration so far.
The lockdown has hit the sex workers and their children badly and this financial aid may be their only source of income for a few months and relief to their children too.