COVID-19: Supreme Court expresses concern over fake claims to get aid meant for families of the dead

The Bench mooted ordering a high-level inquiry by the Comptroller and Auditor General. File.

The Bench mooted ordering a high-level inquiry by the Comptroller and Auditor General. File. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on Monday said it never expected morality to tank so much that fake claims are being made to steal aid meant to provide sustenance to families, even orphaned children, who lost their loved ones and breadwinners to COVID-19.

"We never expected anybody to go to such an extent... Has morality gone down so much that there will be fake claims made for this [compensation for COVID deaths] too? And if some officers are involved, it is very serious," Justice M.R. Shah, heading a Bench comprising Justice B.V. Nagarathna, cautioned.

Moots high-level probe

The Bench mooted ordering a high-level inquiry by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The court's observations came on the basis of a submission by Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre and the State of Gujarat, about instances of fake death certificates being used to claim ex gratia compensation meant for the kin of persons who died of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Financial aid of ₹50,000 is provided for the families of those who died of COVID-19 as a welfare measure. The court had steered the initiative and approved the scheme for distributing ex gratia assistance to families who could provide documents, including RT-PCR test results and death certificates, to the authorities concerned.

The money for the aid was sourced by the States from their respective disaster relief funds.

The petitioner, advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, drew the attention of the court to Section 52 of the Disaster Management Act which deals with false claims. The punishment, if found guilty, of making a false claim is imprisonment up to two years and fine.

‘Not an unending phenomenon’

Mr. Mehta also said the process of payment of compensation could not be an unending phenomenon. It had to stop at some point. He urged the court to fix a deadline for filing of compensation claims. “The process cannot go on endlessly,” Mr. Mehta said.

The court asked Mr. Mehta to file an appropriate application, highlighting both issues of fake claims and the fixing of a deadline for disbursement of ex gratia aid.

Meanwhile, the court clarified that ₹50,000 compensation should be given "per death".

The clarification came after Assam government asked the court whether each family member of a person who died of COVID-19 should be given ₹ 50,000 separately.

"If the parents died of COVID and there are two children, should the ex gratia be given separately to each of the two children," advocate Diksha Rai, for Assam, asked the court.

"Our order is very clear. Ex gratia should be given per death. If both parents die, ₹50,000 each should be given for the death of each parent," Justice Shah explained.

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 11:16:24 pm |