Thursday, February 2, 2023

Covid and Compensation

The apex court recently expressed displeasure over the laxity of state governments in providing compensation to families of those who died due to the pandemic. It also clarified that no claims should be rejected on technical grounds as is the case in many states.

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The Supreme Court on February 4 directed all states to provide full particulars regarding details of compensation given to the concerned State Legal Service Authority (SLSA), including orphans, within a week. Apart from this, the states were also directed to appoint an officer to coordinate with SLSAs to ensure that the compensation reached to all eligible victims.

The division bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna expressed displeasure over the laxity of state governments on paying compensation during the hearing of a plea moved by Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking ex-gratia payments to families of those who died due to Covid-19.

The bench also directed the states to ensure payment of compensation within 10 days of receipt of the claims. Further observing that many states were rejecting applications, the bench directed that it shall not be rejected on technical grounds, and 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 the concerned victim’s family,” the bench said and observed that the rationale was to ensure that it reached all persons who had not approached as and when such particulars were given.

During the hearing, Justice Shah said that no state had given any details and only figures were given. The bench also said that compensation cheques given by Karnataka had bounced and the state should take care that this does not happen in the future.

On January 19, the apex court had pulled up state governments for failing to disburse claims to the next of kin of Covid-19 victims. The Andhra Pradesh chief secretary had apprised the Court that payments to 28,000 claimants had been made. Another 10,000 claimants were left, of which 5,000 had been cleared and would be paid in the next three days. The official said 6,000 rejected claims would be examined by the grievance redressal committee suo motu. He also assured the Court that the government shall ensure that not a single claimant who was eligible for compensation was deprived. The Court told the Bihar chief secretary that the government needs to make more efforts to give compensation to the victims.

The Supreme Court on January 19 had also directed state governments to share complete details about the number of Covid-19 deaths as well as information uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal with their respective SLSAs. Apart from this, the Court also directed the governments to take judicious steps to ensure compensation and rehabilitation of children orphaned due to the coronavirus, based on the information uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal.

Looking into the peculiarity of the situation, the Court observed that more effort was needed to reach the eligible persons/kin/family members of the ones who had succumbed to Covid-19. It directed states to reach out to those children who had lost both parents or surviving parents and whose particulars were already uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal, so that compensation could be paid to them. It further directed the concerned states to share full information/ particulars on the Bal Swaraj portal.

The Court also made it clear that in case the recipient was an orphan, the compensation amount should be deposited directly to the child instead of any other family member. It also directed all state governments that whenever claims were rejected, the reason/s for rejection must be communicated to the claimants and they must be given an opportunity to rectify their claims. It was clarified by the Court that no claims be rejected on technical grounds.

In Andhra Pradesh, the total claims received so far is 42,924 against the official toll of 14,527 and the government has accepted 37,571 claims while rejecting 4,297 applications. The Maharashtra government has refused compensation to 61,848 claimants out of the total number of 2,27,107 applications it has received. The official death toll is 1,42,705 and it has paid compensation to 1,32,092 families. In Uttar Pradesh, 37,007 applications were received against the official death figures of 23,073 and the state has accepted 29,622 claims and rejected 1,527. The Gujarat government has so far approved 87,045 claims and disbursed compensation amount to 82,605 families, while rejecting 8,994 applications. Telangana rejected 2,752 claims out of total 31,053 applications.

On December 7, the top court asked the states which had not yet created the online portal for uploading data on the Covid deceased to create a specific portal related to compensation and give information to the people using TV and radio in order to promote it. The bench reprimanded the Maharashtra government and said it had not yet released compensation to anyone and this was not acceptable. The Court also said that the Maharashtra government should start paying compensation immediately, otherwise the Court will have to act strictly.

Last year, on November 29, the apex court had suggested that there should be proper publicity for the purpose of raising awareness about the compensation plan. The central government submitted that an online portal will be developed within two weeks where compensations could be claimed for cases of death due to Covid-19. “This model of the central government to provide compensation for the deaths due Covid-19 should be adopted by all the states as well,” the Court added.

Earlier on October 4, the Supreme Court had directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to pay Rs 50,000 each to the families of those who died due to the pandemic. A bench, led by Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna, further directed the NDMA to frame guidelines for payment of ex-gratia compensation for deaths caused by Covid-19.

Earlier on September 23, the apex court had expressed contentment over the central government’s decision to provide an ex-gratia amount of Rs 50,000 as financial help to the family of persons who died due to Covid-19. The government in an affidavit filed on September 22, had apprised the Court that the NDMA had recommended an amount of Rs 50,000 each as ex-gratia payment to families of deceased persons, including those involved in relief operations or associated in preparedness activities subject to cause of death being certified as Covid-19.

The Court in its judgment on June 30, 2021, had passed the following directions:

  • We direct 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 disaster—Covid 19 pandemic—over and above the guidelines already recommended for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by Covid-19.
  • The appropriate authority is directed to issue simplified guidelines for issu­ance of death certificates/official documents stating the exact cause of death, i.e., “Death due to Covid-19”, to the family members of the deceased who died due to Covid-19.
  • The Union of India to take appropriate steps on the recommendations made by the Finance Commission in its XVth Finance Commission Report in consultation with other stakeholders and experts.

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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