COVID-19 victims entitled to compensation, government to decide amount: SC
The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the Centre must pay financial compensation to the kin of those who lost their lives due to COVID-19. Earlier this month, the Centre had told the court that it had no plans to pay a financial compensation of Rs. 4 lakh to each COVID-19 victim's family. The relief was announced last year but was quickly reversed.
An SC bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah was hearing multiple pleas in the matter. The petitioners had sought directions to the Centre and state governments to provide ex-gratia compensation of Rs. 4 lakh to the families of those who died due to COVID-19 or post-COVID complications. They had also sought the simplification of the process for issuance of death certificates.
The National Disaster Management Authority has statutory obligation to frame guidelines for compensation for COVID-19 victims. Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act makes minimum relief a statutory obligation for the NDMA. This relief will also include 'ex-gratia assistance' as per Section 12(iii). The Centre's argument that the use of the word "shall" in this context should be read as "may" was rejected.
The SC's judgment said, "There is nothing on record that National Authority has issued any guidelines for minimum standards of relief for COVID-19 victims, which shall include ex-gratia assistance for COVID-19," according to LiveLaw. "The national authority has failed to perform its statutory duty under Section 12 by failing to recommend minimum relief for ex-gratia assistance," it said.
However, the Supreme Court said that it cannot direct the government to pay a certain amount. Unfortunately, the government's resources are limited and any additional burden in the form of ex-gratia compensation will limit funds available to the health and welfare schemes, the court noted. The amount of the compensation was hence left to the wisdom of the national authority.
The court's directions are to be accommodated within a period of six weeks, the report said. The court also directed that the guidelines for the issuance of death certificates in COVID-related cases should be simplified.
The Centre had argued that the demand for ex-gratia compensation was "rather pedantic and narrow approach" as help can be provided in other forms. Health interventions, social protection, and economic recovery for the affected communities would be a more prudent, responsible, and sustainable approach, it argued. Further, providing compensation for one disease and not others would create unfairness and invidious discrimination, it added.