The Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has recommended the payment of ₹50,000 each as ex gratia assistance to the next kin of those who died of COVID-19, including those who succumbed to the virus while involved in relief operations and preparedness activities.
The financial aid would be given, provided that the cause of death is certified as COVID-19.
The money would be provided by the States from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). The disbursement of the amounts would be carried out by the District Disaster Management Authority/district administration concerned to the families.
In case of grievances regarding certification of death as prescribed in the Health Ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), district-level committees comprising Additional District Collector, Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), Additional CMOH/Principal or HOD Medicine of a medical college (if one exists in the district) and a subject expert would propose the necessary remedial measures, including issuance of amended official document for COVID-19 death after verifying facts in accordance with the Health Ministry and ICMR guidelines.
“In case the decision of the committee is not in favour of the claimant, a clear reason for the same shall be recorded,” the NDMA guidelines annexed in the 11-page affidavit said.
The Supreme Court, in a judgment on June 30 based on a petition filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal, had directed the NDMA to recommend guidelines for giving ex gratia assistance to the families of persons who died of COVID-19 as mandated under Section 12 (iii) of the Disaster Management Act of 2005.
The guidelines underscored that the payment of ex gratia would be a “continuous scheme”.
“The ex gratia assistance to families affected by COVID-19 deaths will continue to be provided for deaths that may occur in the future phases of the COVID-19 pandemic as well, or until further notification,” the NDMA said.
The NDMA made a point to remind that the pandemic has not abated. The total number of deaths continues to rise. There is also uncertainty about new variants of the virus and likely future waves. It advocated “financial prudence”.
“Therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the total financial burden emanating from the ex gratia assistance. Financial prudence demands that we plan in a manner that assistance can be provided to a large number of people, should the number of deaths rise,” its guidelines said.
The guidelines noted that States have already been incurring large expenditure from SDRF on various aspects of COVID-19 prevention, management and response.
The Centre has also, from the national budget, announced several measures to prevent the virus, including the vaccination drive, as well as providing for the welfare and support of those affected like orphaned children and the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana package.
“State governments have announced welfare measures from the State budgets. So, in effect, some financial and material assistance has already been provided in different forms to some of the most vulnerable sections,” the NDMA mentioned in its guidelines.
The NDMA said that while the pandemic was an “unprecedented disaster”, other natural disasters that occur frequently have not abated.
“It is important that sufficient funds are available under SDRF to provide a timely and effective response to other disasters as well,” the NDMA noted.