Covid-19: Plea in SC seeks frontline worker status for media personnel, ex-gratia of Rs 20 lakh for deceased, special insurance package

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by Advocate Vishal Tiwari seeking directions to consider journalists and media personnel as frontline workers and initiate a priority vaccination drive for them immediately. Further, the petition has sought ex-gratia compensation to be awarded to the kin of journalists on their death due to Covid-19.

The petition stated that during the pandemic, media personnel not only kept citizens aware but also operated as a check to "mischievous and notorious" activities by criminal organizations, like hoarding, black-marketing, fake medicines etc.

The petitioner contended that both the Central and the State governments have failed to recognize the act of journalists and media workers and has failed to identify them as frontline workers, as no priority vaccination has been formulated leading to the deaths of many.

The petitioner said it is the sole responsibility of the Central government along with the state governments to recognize the effort and acknowledge the sacrifice of the media community during Covid-19. Therefore, the immediate prioritization and initiation of vaccination drive for journalists and media personnel for their health and safety is important and will energize the community.

The petitioner has prayed the Court to issue directions to have a specific insurance policy during Covid-19 for journalists and media personnel for their safe future and that of their families.

The petition said the journalists and media personnel should be considered frontline workers and their constitutional rights of health and safety should be enforced.

Therefore, an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 20 lakh has been sought to be given to to the next of kin of those journalists and media personnel who have lost their lives to Covid-19 while remaining active in media coverage during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

"Broadcasting of news directly from the spot to make people aware about the present situation is a service of sacrifice and yet the government has not recognised the value of the lives of such unrecognised front workers," the Petition said.

The petitioner, being from the family of a journalist, said he understands the hardship faced by them in their profession. According to him, media has played an important role in legal system by coverage of daily hearings before Supreme Court and various High Courts, which helped keep people informed of the justice delivery system, its methods and public interest decisions.

This Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India gave a new dimension to Article 21 and held that “right to life is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit, the right to live with human dignity and liberty”. However, in this present situation, the right to live with human dignity, life and liberty has been jeopardised because sustenance has been a question and the situation has been worse wherein the individuals who are working effortlessly to gather information pertaining to the present situation are not under any relief package of the respondents, the petition said.

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The petitioner said he understands the hardship faced by journalists in their profession and despite them, they carry out their duty towards the nation as the fourth pillar of democracy.