Sex workers queue up to get hand gloves and face masks being distributed by NGO Saheli at Budhwar peth in Pune. Maharashtra government had released <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>7.94 crore as financial aid to commercial sex workers in Pune, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The fund has reached different residents. (HT PHOTO)
Sex workers queue up to get hand gloves and face masks being distributed by NGO Saheli at Budhwar peth in Pune. Maharashtra government had released 7.94 crore as financial aid to commercial sex workers in Pune, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The fund has reached different residents. (HT PHOTO)

Meant for CSWs in Pune, Rs7.94 crore released by govt lands in different hands

Lapse came to light after women from the vasti who received the money came forward to return it, as they are not, not have ever been, CSWs
By Prachi Bari and Nadeem Inamdar
PUBLISHED ON APR 30, 2021 04:38 PM IST

PUNE Part of an amount of 7.94 crore, released by the Maharashtra government as financial aid to be paid to commercial sex workers (CSW) in Pune, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been misappropriated.

At least some of the funds have gone to the bank accounts of women who are not CSWs living in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Tarawade vasti, Mohammadwadi.

Meanwhile, some CSWs in Pune have been waiting for the funds now for almost one year.

What appears to be a major goof-up, or a scam, only came to light after women from the vasti who received the money came forward to return it, as they are not, not have ever been, CSWs.

On April 29, Nitin Pawar, president, Hamal Panchayat Samiti and Akhil Bharatiya Bahujan Sena, along with the NGO Saheli and the National Network of Sex Workers presented a statement to the district collector informing him of the misuse of the funds.

According to Pawar, the women from Tarawade vasti were made to sign a consent form by members of an “unknown NGO”.

“Since most of the women are illiterate, and working as waste pickers and maids, they simply signed the consent forms, gave copies of their Aadhar cards and bank passbooks, and paid an additional 200 for the service,” said Pawar.

“Nine women received 15,000 for three months. The women are angry and want to return the money to the government as they are not sex workers. We have helped them lodge a police complaint,” said Tejasvi Sevekari, director, Saheli.

As per the state government, an amount of 7.94 crore has been transferred to 5,296 bank accounts allegedly belonging to commercial sex workers in Pune.

“On April 28, 2021, the government deposited an amount of 7.94 crore in 5,296 bank accounts of commercial sex workers who have been rescued from the flesh trade and who lost their livelihood, and have families and children, amidst the Covid-19 crisi,” confirmed Ashwini Kamble, Women and Child welfare officer, Pune district.

The state released the money based on a Supreme Court order, dated September 21, 2020, that victims of the flesh trade be compensated by the administration with assistance like provision of foodgrains and cash. The court ruled that no documentary proof must be taken from victims while delivering the welfare measures and sops.

VM, a sex worker and community leader in Pune, said, “We have been waiting for this money for almost a year and this money was meant for us. This is fraud. There is no transparency in the way things are done by the government.”

Pune district collector Rajesh Deshmukh had constituted a committee to provide financial assistance to CSWs, with a welfare officer designated as its secretary.

The committee visited the red-light areas, interacted with bonafide NGOs working there and deposited Rs5,000 per month in the accounts of rescued victims, and an additional 2,500 in the accounts of those who had children and families.

11.26 crore was made available from the CM’s relief fund from October to December 2020.

Deshmukh said that he had issued immediate orders for the financial assistance which took place in two phases.

Manisha Edke is one of the 20 women who returned the money to the government. “I work as a maid and I would rather have my hard-earned money than government giveaways. They were meant for those working in the sex trade. My husband read the news on his mobile phone and we realised that the Rs15000 that we got were wrongly given to us. I would rather live with dignity and earn my money than take free funds from the government.”

The group of women met Upper District Magistrate Jayashree Katare and handed her a statement about the incident. “It does not seem to be appropriate for hardworking women who empathise with their sisters without prejudice. It is also a step towards our self-esteem to be named in the list of women doing this business. So we are returning this money. It should be accepted and the names of these women in the scheme should be reduced from the beneficiary scheme. This grant, which is being given without any verification, should be thoroughly investigated,” said Nitin Waghmare.

He demanded strict punishment for the culprits as they also lodged a complaint at Wanowrie Police station.

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