5 NGO workers arrested for ‘misappropriating relief funds meant for commercial sex workers’

The arrested accused in the case have been identified as Gauri Gurung, Savita Lashkare, Sarita Lashkare, Amol Mali and Mahesh Ghadsingh.

Five persons linked to Kayakalpa, an NGO, have been arrested for alleged misappropriation of Covid relief funds given to commercial sex workers by the state government. Prakash Vhatkar, the naik tehsildar (revenue), has lodged the first information report in this case at the Dattawadi police station.

The arrested accused in the case have been identified as Gauri Gurung, Savita Lashkare, Sarita Lashkare, Amol Mali and Mahesh Ghadsingh. Police have booked the accused under sections 406, 409 (a), 420 and 120 (b) of the Indian Penal Code, pertaining to charges of cheating and others.

In September last year, the Supreme Court had ordered that aid in the form or ration and direct money transfer be given to women dependent on commercial sex work. The apex court had said this Covid relief aid should be given without asking for any identity proof from these women.

Accordingly, the Maharashtra government had decided aid of Rs 5,000 per month, to be distributed to CSWs, and an additional aid of Rs 2,500 per month be given to those women who have school-going children. The assistance was announced from the months of October to December 2020.

After the state government order, a district-level committee was set up under the chairmanship of Pune District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh, with District Woman and Child Development Officer Ashwini Kamble as its secretary. The committee held multiple meetings and officials from the Woman and Child Development wing held meetings with representatives of various NGOs working with CSWs. The data of these women and their bank accounts was collated with help of the District AIDS Prevention and Control unit.

The district administration collated the data on 7,011 CSWs in the district and a process of transferring the funds to their bank accounts was initiated. A total fund of Rs 11.26 crore was set aside from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for this purpose.

Police said hundreds of CSWs got Rs 15,000 in three months in their bank accounts from the government. But the accused allegedly took Rs 10,000 back from several CSWs, saying they wanted to give the money to “senior officers” and some “orphans”.

Police Inspector Vijay Khomne of Dattawadi police station said, “Some CSWs approached us and the government officers with complaints against office-bearers and members of the NGO.”

“As per the complaints, the accused linked to the NGO allegedly took Rs 10,000 back from several CSWs… So far, we have received complaints from 52 CSWs. The number of complainants is likely to increase….We have arrested the five accused… a court has remanded them to police custody till further investigation,” said Inspector Khomne.

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