‘Clarify on payment of ex-gratia to kin of Covid victims’

PTI New Delhi | Updated on June 21, 2021

SC says framing of a uniform compensation scheme could be considered

The Supreme Court, on Monday, asked the Centre whether the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, has taken a decision not to pay ₹4 lakh ex-gratia to the families of victims of Covid, and observed that “to avoid heart burn” among beneficiaries the framing of a uniform compensation scheme may be considered.

The Centre, which in its affidavit said that paying ex-gratia compensation was beyond the fiscal affordability and finances of the Central and State governments as they were under severe strain, told the top court, however, that it was not the case of the government that “it does not have money”.

“Our case is that we are utilising the funds available for other things rather than utilising funds to build health infrastructure, ensure food to all, vaccinate the entire population and provide financial stimulus to boost the economy.

“You (Centre) are right in clarifying because saying that the Central Government has no money has very wide repercussions,” a special Vacation Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta while reserving verdict on two pleas seeking ex-gratia compensation for dependents of those who died of Covid-19.

Observing that the Finance Commission’s recommendations on dealing with disasters cannot override statutory schemes on compensation under section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, the Bench asked the Centre “whether the NDMA, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken any decision that no compensation should be given as ex-gratia”. Mehta referred to some decision taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the nodal agency for disaster management, saying that he was not aware of any such decision of the NDMA.

Death certificates

The top court termed as “prima facie more complicated” the present process of issuing death certificates and asked the Centre to simplify it to enable the dependents of Covid victims get such certificates corrected even after their issuance so that they can avail benefits of the welfare schemes. “Can it be said that a Covid-positive patient who was hospitalised, will be issued such a death certificate..,” the Bench asked.

“When humanity is gone and things like black marketing is happening, what can be said? But our priority is the common man,” the Bench said, asking the Solicitor General to do the needful to ensure that families of those who died of Covid get the proper death certificate and the provision for amending the reason for death should be there.

On being pointed out that States do not give uniform compensation to families of the victims, it asked whether uniform guidelines on compensation can be framed under the Act “otherwise there will be heartburn. Somebody will get some money and others will get more”.

The Centre can consider having a uniform scheme under other provisions of the DMA, said Mehta.

Published on June 21, 2021

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