Centre to SC: NDMA recommends Rs.50,000 ex-gratia to families of those who died of COVID-19
Centre on Wednesday informed Supreme Court that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has recommended that Rs.50,000 be given to the kin of those who died of COVID-19. In an affidavit, the Centre said that ex-gratia assistance will also be given to the kin of those who died of the virus due to involvement in COVID-19 relief operations or activities associated with the preparedness for dealing with the pandemic.
Currently, around 4,50,000 persons have succumbed to COVID-19 and Rs.50,000 per each death is expected to have a government estimate of Rs.2500 crore for giving compensations.
The ex-gratia assistance will be given subject to the cause of death being certified as COVID-19 as per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and ICMR, the government said. It added that the ex-gratia assistance will be provided by states from State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).
The apex court had in its June 30 verdict directed the NDMA to recommend within six weeks the guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life to the family members of persons who died due to COVID-19.
On September 3, the top court had expressed displeasure over the delay in the framing guidelines for the issuance of death certificates to the families of those who died of COVID-19. The apex court had in its June 30 verdict directed the NDMA to recommend within six weeks the guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life to the family members of persons who died due to COVID-19.
On June 30, Justice Ashok Bhushan headed bench ordered Central Government to implement mandated ex-gratia to Covid victims, which was cancelled by the Govt, when Covid started spreading. Before the first lockdown, as per NDMA guidelines, Rs.4 lakh was granted as exgratia when declaring the calamity as a disaster. But after declaring lockdown, an order was issued to cancel the exgratia provision.
Prime Minister chaired National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) got vehement criticism from Supreme Court for dereliction of duty. The Supreme Court directed NDMA to issue guidelines in six weeks for ex-gratia compensation to families of those who died of Covid, saying the NDMA has “failed to perform” its “mandatory statutory duty”.
The apex court also ordered steps to simplify guidelines for issuance and correction of “death certificates/ official documents stating the exact cause of death, that is, ‘Death due to COVID-19’” for enabling dependents to get benefits of welfare schemes. A bench also comprising Justice M R Shah however noted the “peculiarity and the impact and effect” of the pandemic and said that it cannot order payment of Rs four lakh as ex-gratia compensation which should be decided by NDMA as there was a need to “focus simultaneously on prevention, preparedness, mitigation and recovery, which calls for a different order of mobilization of both financial and technical resources”.
“The courts would be very slow to interfere with priorities fixed by the government in providing reliefs unless it is patently arbitrary and/ or not in the larger public interest at all. The Government should be free to take policy decisions/ decide priorities..,” the bench said while refusing to fix the compensation amount.
“We direct the NDMA 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 Disaster Management Act (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..,” it said.
Justice Shah, writing the 66-page judgment for the bench, directed the Centre to take appropriate steps on recommendations of the Finance Commission on providing insurance cover for deaths caused by Covid. The direction came after the Centre said that presently there was no guideline/ policy/ scheme in NDMA which relates to National Insurance mechanism that may be used to pay for disaster-related deaths due to COVID”.
The top court’s verdict came on two separate pleas filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking directions to the Centre and the states to provide Rs.4 lakh compensation to the families of coronavirus victims as provisioned under the Act.
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