The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to take the reins and marshal the efforts to pay compensation to families that lost their relatives to COVID-19, after noticing some States responded to the humanitarian move in a lukewarm fashion.
A Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Sanjiv Khanna told the States that many of these families were economically challenged. They may have been further crippled by the fact that COVID-19 took away their sole breadwinner.
The court said payment of ₹50000 each as ex gratia to the loved ones of every COVID-19 patient was a welfare gesture, and so, essential to a welfare State. Delays and bureaucratic red-tape to release the money or process the application did not augur well. Moreover, applications for compensation ought not to be rejected merely on technical glitches. Every reason for denying a claim should be recorded, it noted.
‘Reach out to children’
The court ordered the States to reach out especially to children orphaned by the pandemic and whose details have been uploaded in the Bal Swaraj portal of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The Commission, through its web portal, is identifying and collecting information from across the country about children orphaned, abandoned or left with one parent as an aftermath of the pandemic.
The Bench said the States should take advantage of the portal and use the information available on it to identify and pay children the ex gratia amount of ₹50000.
During the hearing, after a short discussion with Justice Khanna, Justice Shah told the lawyers present “we have decided to directly step in and see that payments are made.” He said the court would pass an order in the next few days to rope in the legal services authorities at State and district to act as it's “ombudsman”. “In the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, the High Court involved the legal services authorities as the ombudsman to identify and pay compensation to the victims,” he observed.
The court said that it would intervene in every State where the applications received for compensation were lesser than the deaths registered. It indicated that it would, in its proposed order, direct the State and district legal services authorities in these States to get the details of all those applicants to facilitate the payment of the ex gratia amount.
Summons Chief Secretaries
The court earlier in the day summoned the Chief Secretaries of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar for non-payment of compensation to the kin of the victims. “It is unfortunate that we have to call out State after State like this... Every State believes the people are at its mercy,” it said.
In the post lunch session, however, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary said the State had received 49,292 applications for compensation, of which 31,000 were found eligible. Bihar had also received over 10,000 claims for compensation.
The hearing saw the Bench ask Gujarat why 4,000 applications for ex gratia payment were rejected. In Kerala, the court noted that only 27,000 claims were received though there were 49,000 deaths. Maharashtra informed the court that it had paid compensation to over a lakh people.
Even in past hearings, the court had expressed its anxiety about why there is only a trickle of claimants for the compensation. In fact, it had prepared a questionnaire for the States that included the number of deaths recorded in each State, the number of claims received by them individually, the compensation paid so far, whether a grievance redressal committee in each district had been constituted? It had also asked the States if online portals for disbursal of compensation were created or not.
The court had approved the revised and simplified model of disbursement of compensation adopted by Gujarat. It had said the same model could be applied across the country.