Center faces criticism from Supreme Court for dereliction of duty
The month of June is a bad one for Central and State Governments – they are being slapped around by the Supreme Court (SC) for poor management in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 2, the apex court came down heavily on shoddy vaccination policy which forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to re-work the vaccination policy on June 7. On June 29, the SC ordered defying States like Aam Aadmi Party ruled-Delhi, Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal, Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and BJP-ruled Assam to implement One Nation One Ration Card scheme of Central Government by July 31 for the benefit of migrant labour and un-organised labour. The Central Government’s Labour Ministry also got slammed by the SC for not preparing labour data even after spending Rs.417 crore and the Court gave an ultimatum to finish it by December 31.
On Wednesday – June 30 – Central Government was asked to implement mandated ex-gratia to Covid Victims, which was cancelled by the Govt when Covid started spreading. Prime Minister chaired National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) got vehement criticism from Supreme Court for dereliction of duty. The Supreme Court directed NDMA headed by Modi 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”.
Justice Shah, writing the 66-page judgement 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 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 of justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah, however, noted the “peculiarity, the impact and effect” of the pandemic and said that it cannot order payment of Rs.4 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.
Dealing with the provisions on compensation in the DMA, it said the word “shall” has to be read as “shall” and “it is the mandatory statutory duty cast upon the National Authority to recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief which shall include ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life…”
Justice Shah, writing the 66-page judgement 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.
Here the question is why Central and State Governments failed to rise to the occasion and committed so many failures in handling the COVID-19 pandemic situations, forcing the High Courts and the Supreme Court to deliver justice? The Prime Minister and Chief Ministers must sit and think about where they went wrong and nudge the Bureaucracy for misleading them.
 Supreme Court pulls up government on COVID-19 ex gratia – Jun 30, 2021, The Hindu
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