Government expands COVID-19 death compensation ambit

Kin of those who died by suicide 30 days after COVID-19 diagnosis eligible for aid.

September 23, 2021 05:34 pm | Updated September 24, 2021 01:52 am IST - NEW DELHI

A relative lights the funeral pyre of a COVID-19 victim in Guwahati on July 2, 2021.

A relative lights the funeral pyre of a COVID-19 victim in Guwahati on July 2, 2021.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Supreme Court on Thursday that the families of those who died by suicide within 30 days of a COVID-19 positive diagnosis would be eligible for financial help under the Disaster Management Act.

The statement came in the backdrop of the guidelines issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which recommended ₹50,000 each as ex gratia assistance to the families of people who died of the virus. The NDMA has proposed that the States should provide the money from their State Disaster Response Fund.

In the previous hearing of the case on September 13, a Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and A.S. Bopanna urged the government to consider ex gratia payment to the families of people who committed suicide, unable to bear the shock of a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

On Thursday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Ministry, stressed that these families were also “entitled to avail financial help as granted under the SDRF” in accordance with the NDMA guidelines of September 11. That is, they too would be eligible for the ₹50,000 ex gratia payment. If the person commited suicide within 30 days of a positive test, it should be deemed that the person took his own life because of COVID-19, he submitted.

Formal orders on NDMA guidelines on Oct. 4

During the hearing, the court suggested that the committees proposed to be formed at the district level under the NDMA guidelines to deal with grievances regarding certification of death should be able to directly access hospital medical records to check claims of COVID-19 deaths. This would help resolve cases in which families claim ex gratia assistance but do not have medical records of COVID-19 treatment to show. The court would pass formal orders on the NDMA guidelines on October 4.

On June 30, the court, in a judgment based on a petition filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal, ordered the NDMA to frame uniform guidelines for payment of ex gratia assistance to families of COVID-19 patients who had died.

Speaking for the Bench on Thursdah, Justice Shah observed that the court was “very happy” with the NDMA guidelines extending financial aid to many families of the COVID-19 dead. “Today, we are very happy... This has brought solace to many... This would wipe away the tears of many,” he remarked.

The court noted that despite the ubiquitous financial constraints and huge population problems, several welfare programmes, both at the Central and State levels, have been introduced to bring succour to people who have suffered and lost their loves ones to the virus.

“We are happy something has been done,” Justice Shah said.

Mr. Mehta stated, “What India has done, no other country has done”.

Financial prudence

The court’s favourable observations for the government came even as the latter advocated financial prudence in the face of the pandemic.

The government has fortified itself against the likelihood of future criticism about disbursing ₹50000 and not more by saying that “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”.

The NDMA guidelines had noted that the States were already incurring large expenditure from the SDRF on various aspects of COVID-19 prevention, management and response.

The Centre too had, 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.

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