Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Fake Covid death compensation claims: Supreme Court says if officials are involved, it makes it even worse

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The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it will file details of alleged fake applications for Covid-19 compensation by tomorrow. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has suggested that an inquiry into alleged fake death claims could be entrusted to the Auditor General’s office. 

A bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice B.V. Nagarathna observed, “We never visualised that this kind of fake claims could come. It’s a pious world. We never thought this scheme could be misused. And if officials are involved, it makes it even worse.”

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On the last hearing which was held on March 7, 2022, the Apex Court had expressed its concern over the fake certificates of Covid-19 deaths issued by the medical practitioners for ex-gratia, stating that this may prevent the real beneficiaries from getting their due.

The Court repeatedly had expressed its displeasure over the laxity of state governments on compensation during the hearing of the plea moved by Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking ex-gratia payments to families of the Covid-19 deceased.

The bench had observed that some doctors are preparing fake certificates to justify Covid deaths. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had suggested to the Court that it may direct that whoever applies gets the compensation, but there may be a direction that there should be a fixed date and it cannot be an endless process. 

Thereafter, the matter was adjourned for a week. The Court, on its hearing dated, 04/02/2022, had directed all the states to give full particulars regarding details of compensation to the concerned State Legal Service Authority (SLSA), including orphans, within a week.

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Apart from this, the states were also directed to appoint an officer to coordinate with SLSA to ensure that the compensation reaches all eligible victims.

The Apex Court also directed the states to ensure payment of compensation within 10 days of receipt of applications for compensation.

It was observed by the Court that the rationale is to ensure that it reaches all persons who have not approached as and when such particulars are given.

“If the member secretary (MS) finds out of the deaths registered, some of the family members are yet to be given compensation the MS of SLSA will reach to them through a secretary DLSA/Secretary Taluka and through Para legal volunteers. Their function would be facilitate those people to get compensation. Their role shall be of the ombudsman. If there is any difficulty they shall approach the concerned person. All shall cooperate in the above process,” said the Court.

Further, observing that many states are rejecting applications, the Court directed that it shall not be rejected on technical grounds, if there is a glitch the State must give them to cure it. “The ultimate goal of the State is to provide some solace to concerned victim’s family.”

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During the hearing, Justice Shah said that no state has given any details in this matter. States have given only figures. Apart from this, while observing that compensation checks given by Karnataka have bounced, the bench said the state should take care that this does not happen in the future.

The Top Court earlier on June 30, 2021 directed the National Disaster Management Authority to recommend guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life to the family members of the persons who died due to Covid-19, as mandated under Section 12(iii) of DMA 2005 for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to the persons affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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