Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Compensation for Covid death: Centre’ s constitutional responsibility to provide relief

By Abhijit Roy

The Supreme Court, while giving a big and sensitive decision, has opened the way for compensation to the families of those who died due to Covid 19 infection. The court has made it clear that it is necessary to give compensation to the families of the victims as it is the constitutional obligation of the government. In fact, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan referred to Section-12 of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)Act, in which there is a provision to give ex-gratia amount on death in disaster which the government is bound to implement. Not only this, the Supreme Court also directed the NDMA to prepare a guide line in this matter and recommend the minimum ex-gratia amount in respect of deaths due to Covid 19 infection. It is noteworthy that the dependents of some of the victims had requested for a compensation amount of four lakh each to the kin of the deceased, expressing their inability to pay which the central government had said that this would empty the government’s treasury. The top court also rejected the central government’s contention in this regard, which said that the provision of section 12 of the Disaster Management Act is not binding. On this, the court clarified that the English word Shell has been used in Section-12 of Disaster Management, which shows its imperative. The court also asked the NDMA to determine the appropriate ex-gratia amount. In the past, there were reports that in the death certificates of many people who died of Covid, the cause of death was not written as Covid infection. In this regard, the Supreme Court made it clear that while issuing the death certificate in the case of death due to Covid, the date and cause of death should be written in it as Covid. Along with this, the Supreme Court also said that if the family members are not satisfied, then easy facility should be provided to them to correct the cause of death.

Disagreeing with the submissions made by the central government in this regard, the top court asked whether the PM-led NDMA has decided that ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh cannot be given to the next of kin in case of death due to corona infection? Also questioned whether the scheme of giving an equal ex-gratia amount cannot be brainstormed to reduce the misery of the kin of the deceased? In fact, it was argued in the affidavit filed by the Central Government that it was beyond its power to give ex-gratia to the families of those who died of Covid. During this time the central and state governments are going through a period of severe economic crisis. At the same time, the Solicitor General argued that the issue is not that there is a lack of financial resources, the question is how the resources can be used better. Also that national resources should be used rationally, judiciously and to the best. The government’s argument was that our goal is to strengthen the health infrastructure so that any crisis can be better dealt with in future. At the same time, the counsel for those who filed the petition argued that the government could not deviate from the constitutional obligation by citing the crisis of financial resources. At the same time, the court was of the view that NDMA has failed in discharging its statutory obligations. It is noteworthy that so far about four lakh people have lost their lives in the corona epidemic. However, the court has asked the NDMA to prepare guidelines within six weeks for giving ex-gratia amount to the next of kin of those who died of Kovid-19. Undoubtedly, this decision of the apex court will bring relief to lakhs of people who have lost the only earning member of the family. There is also a need that sincere efforts should be made to provide some extent relief to the emotionally hurt people.

(Author is a columnist. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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