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SC says compensation must be provided to COVID victims

SC says compensation must be provided to COVID victims and directs the Center to form guidelines in 6 weeks for COVID victim compensations.

Previous Petition for Compensation:

Petitioner advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal had filed an affidavit in response to a PIL seeking an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families which lost their loved ones due to the pandemic. While issuing notice to the Centre, the top court had last month asked it to furnish the ICMR guidelines on death certificates for COVID-19 victims.

Stressing that many families have lost their “sole bread earner”, had contested that under section 12(iii) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, every family whose member died due to disaster was entitled for ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh abd demanded a compensation of ₹4 lakh to victims killed from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).  They also asked for relief regarding simplification of the process for issuance of death certificates of persons who lost lives due to COVID.

What the Center Had Said:

The Centre had earlier this month told the SC that compensation of ₹4 lakh cannot be paid to the families of those who have died of COVID-19 as the finances of state governments and the Center are under severe strain saying, “Already the finances of state governments and the central government are under severe strain because of the reduction in tax revenues and increase in health expenses on account of the pandemic.”

Previously, the Center also filed an affidavit before the top court, the Union Home Ministry said that the Center, through “minimum standard relief” under section 12 of the DM Act has taken several steps providing for substantial and speedy measures by way of, increase in the health, infrastructure, ensuring food safety to every citizen.

“Thus, utilization of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia may have the unfortunate consequence of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good,” it added.

The government also urged courts not to interfere in policy decisions.

The Center said that it’s wrong to state that the help can be provided only through ex-gratia assistance as it would be a rather “pedantic and narrow approach”, and a broader, sustainable and more prudent approach would involve health interventions, social protection, and economic recovery for the affected communities.

“Globally, the governments in other countries too have followed this approach, and have announced interventions that provide fiscal stimulus. The Government of India has followed a similar approach,” the Center said.

What the Supreme Court Said:

“The National Disaster Management Authority has a statutory obligation to frame guidelines for minimum ex-gratia assistance for the victims of COVID pandemic,” the Court said.

The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday directed the Central Government to frame within six weeks the guidelines for providing a minimum relief to the kin of those who succumbed to COVID-19.

However, the top court said that it cannot direct an amount that the Center will have to pay.

It stated that the NDMA failed to discharge its functions by not advocating an ex-gratia assistance.

“There is a duty cast on the national authority to prescribe minimum standards of relief. There is nothing on record that National Authority has issued any guidelines,” said the SC.

The devastation of the Pandemic:

Millions of lives have been devastated by the pandemic, and lakhs have lost their lives.  India does not have a strong health system for the sick and ailing and medical bills go soaring above their budgets.  Perhaps the privileged medically insured would get some benefits but for millions, falling sick is a serious liability.

The massive loss of jobs and finances has destroyed homes and many children have lost both parents to the pandemic.  The world has never witnessed a global disaster to this level and many people have felt abandoned by the government, having to fend for themselves. It was in this climate that the people asked for compensation which the Central Government refused.

The angry public has expressed their grievances that the Center indulges in many extravagances including the building of the Central Vista, however, COVID victims were left alone to fend for themselves and could not even afford firewood to cremate their dead.  Thus, this intervention from the Supreme Court was welcomed gladly by the public but the question remains, how much compensation will the Center give?

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