Supreme Court pulls up Centre over compensation for COVID-19 victims
The Supreme Court of India on Friday criticized the central government for the delay in framing guidelines regarding payment of compensation to the families of COVID-19 victims. It has asked the Centre to file a compliance report by September 11. The top court had, in June, passed an order to frame guidelines for payment of compensation and issuing of death certificates.
The SC noted that if immediate steps are not taken and a third wave of the coronavirus hits the country, the government would face an even bigger challenge in framing norms. "The order on death certificates, (compensation for) death, etc. was passed long back. By the time you take further steps, third wave will also be over," the court remarked.
In June, the Supreme Court had ruled that the kin of those who died from COVID-19 should get financial compensation. It gave the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) six weeks to frame guidelines and decide the payment amount. Last month, the SC had asked for a compliance affidavit by September 3. However, the Centre today sought a one-week extension to the deadline.
"We direct the NDMA to form guidelines for ex-gratia compensation for family members of persons who succumbed to COVID-19 as per minimum standards of relief. The reasonable amount to be provided is left to the wisdom of national authority," the SC had said in June.
However, the Centre had argued that payment of compensation was not mandatory but discretionary under the Disaster Management Act. It also said that the compensation was only applicable to natural disasters under that law. Besides, the government said that states could not afford Rs. 4 lakh compensation for each family - the amount proposed by the petitioners in this case.
The Centre has been facing criticism from political opponents and sections of the public for denying assistance to coronavirus victims. The Opposition Congress party has said that a sum of Rs. 10 lakh per family should be paid by the government. COVID-19 has claimed around 4,40,000 lives across India since the beginning of the pandemic, though experts say that is an undercount.