Covid: Supreme Court rules ex gratia to parents under central law

Relatives of patients killed by Covid will have to be paid ex gratia under a central law, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday after dismissing Narendra Modi’s government claim that such payments are not mandatory.

But the court refused to set the amount at Rs 4 lakh each, which the applicants had requested based on the central guidelines issued in 2015 for disaster survivors. The court asked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to decide the amount of payment within six weeks.

So far, at least 3.98 lakh of people in the country have succumbed to Covid, but the Center has blocked the ex gratia payment – intended to overcome immediate demands – by cutting semantic hairs, insisting that the word “shall” in a section of the Disaster Management Act should be interpreted as “may”. The assertion did not cut the ice with the court.

The Supreme Court ordered the NDMA to formulate within six weeks uniform directives for the payment of Covid ex gratia to relatives.

A special bench of Judges Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah said NDMA could set a reasonable amount while keeping in mind the funds and resources available with the country.

The court ordered the government to streamline the process for issuing death certificates in Covid cases to avoid harassment of ex gratia claimants.

In this context, the alleged attempts by some state governments to falsify the figures of Covid victims take on an additional dimension which has a direct bearing on the affected families.

The competent authority is responsible for issuing simplified guidelines for the issuance of death certificates and other official documents indicating the exact cause, i.e. “death due to Covid-19”, to families of persons deceased, the court said.

These guidelines may also provide for appeals and corrections in certificates if families are not satisfied with the cause of death, the judiciary added.

Usually, payments under the Disaster Management Act are made by the Center. The National Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) – 75 percent funded by the Center and the remainder by the state government of the respective general category – is also used. Once NDMA sets the guidelines, it will be clear where Covid’s ex gratia payments will be made.

The court declared that the “national authority” (NDMA) had failed to fulfill its legal obligation. The court pointed out that the government had, in a letter dated March 14, 2020, declared the Covid-19 pandemic as a “notified disaster”, which falls under the Disaster Management Act.

The court disagreed with the government’s argument that the word “shall” in section 12 of the Disaster Management Act which deals with ex gratia payment should be read as “may”.

“To interpret the word ‘shall’ as ‘may’ and as directoire / discretionary, the very object and purpose of the Law will be defeated. The word “shall” used twice in Article 12 significantly imposes on the national authority the duty to issue guidelines regarding minimum standards of assistance, which must include ex gratia assistance in the event of death. as well as assistance in the event of damage to houses and for the restoration of livelihoods ”, declared the court.

The court, however, accepted the Centre’s position that advocating for a directive to pay a minimum of Rs 4 lakh to the parents of each of the deceased Covid patients could not be mandated because the government had various other financial commitments. related. The government has included among these commitments free vaccines, antiviral drugs and food grains amid the pandemic, in addition to a stimulus for the battered economy of Covid.

The court was seized of a batch of requests filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal and a few other interveners pleading for a minimum ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh to each family that has lost a member due to Covid.

Judge Shah said: “It is undeniable that these (pandemic) deaths have affected families of all classes…. Many have lost the only livelihood.

“However, at the same time… the impact and effect of the current pandemic / disaster would be different from other disasters / natural disasters for which gratis assistance is provided. There will be no justification for providing the same / similar amount as ex gratia assistance as provided for other disasters / natural disasters i.e. Rs 4 lakh. “

Judge Shah added, “No state or country has unlimited resources. That is why he only advertises financial aid / packages as far as possible. “

The court said the Center should take appropriate action to follow up on recommendations made by the Finance Committee in its 15th report on providing social security to certain targeted groups such as health workers, post-mortem workers. , incinerators and workers at burial sites. Stakeholders and experts should be consulted.

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