The Supreme Court today agreed to examine Centre’s plea that sex workers should not be allowed to operate in the country under the cloak of working “with dignity” as suggested by a panel, since it would be contrary to the statute prohibiting the world’s oldest trade. Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra told a special bench of justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Misra that any such endorsement by the apex court would go contrary to the vires of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which bans prostitution in toto. Malhotra urged the apex court to delete the reference made by the apex court in its order of July 19, last year on the issue relating to “creating conditions conducive for sex workers to work with dignity.”
He also wanted the bench to remove the West Bengal-based NGO Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee from the panel constituted by the apex court as the organisation was championing the cause of sex workers and had also filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court in support of prostitution. On July 3, the apex court while appointing a broad based committee had formulated three questions for reference: Prevention of trafficking, rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave the sex work; and conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
The Centre’s move was however, opposed by senior counsel Jayant Bhushan, acting as an amicus curiae and Anand Grover who submitted that the Act only prohibited brothel activities and punitive action against pimps. In other words the counsel contended that if a sex worker carries out the activities on her own volition, then it was not an illegal Act. The bench after hearing the arguments said it would examine the issue at length since it did not want to give an impression that the apex court was giving it’s “stamp of approval” for an act that is purportedly illegal.
Earlier, the panel headed another senior advocate Pradeep Ghosh submitted its seventh report recommending various measures for rehabilitation of the sex workers. On July 19, last year the apex court while dealing with a case relating to the killing of a sex worker had constituted a committee of senior lawyers, NGO and Government officials to suggest measures to end the menace and rehabilitate sex workers. It held that “right to live with dignity” is a Constitutional right, and had directed the Centre, States and UTs to carry out a comprehensive survey to determine the number of sex workers in the country who are willing for rehabilitation.
“We may reiterate that this exercise has been done by us because the word “life” in Article 21 of the Constitution of India has been interpreted in several decisions of this Court to mean a right to ‘life with dignity’ “It is only if a sex worker is able to earn a livelihood through technical skills rather than by selling her body that she can live with dignity, and that is why we have requested all the States and the Union of India to submit schemes for giving technical training to these sex workers,” the bench had said.