Court and compensation: On ex gratia to kin of COVID-19 victims

It took much persuasion by the Supreme Court and all its assertiveness to get the Union government to agree last year to pay a token compensation of ₹50,000 to the families of each of those who were claimed by COVID-19 . The time has now come for the Court to assert its authority once again to ensure that neither tardiness on the part of the States nor incorrect rejection of claims deprives genuine victims of their right to the ex gratia amount. In the latest hearing, the Court had to pull up a couple of States for not disbursing the amount fast enough and express concern about the high number of rejected claims. In the backdrop of reports that there has been significant under-reporting of deaths due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Bench had passed orders some months ago to the effect that no person’s family shall be denied the benefit on the ground that the death certificate did not specify the cause of death as due to COVID-19. Early experience since the outbreak showed that many deaths were attributed to co-morbidities rather than to the infection itself. Also, many died after testing negative during hospitalisation or after their discharge. To address this situation, the Court directed that any death occurring within 30 days of a person testing positive, or being clinically determined to suffer from the infection, will be eligible for the ex gratia payment. In addition, the Court devised an appeal mechanism in the form of grievance redress committees at the district level.

In the latest order, the Bench, comprising Justice M.R. Shah and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, has directed that if a claim has been rejected due to defects in application, the family must be given an opportunity to rectify the shortcoming and then be paid the compensation. Noting that in some cases, the number of claims is lower than the number of registered deaths, the Court has directed that officials reach out to the families on their own. It has extracted assurances from some States that claims that had been cleared but yet to be disbursed would be cleared as early as possible. Significantly, it has also mandated the disclosure of the reasons for rejection to the applicants so that they could either rectify errors or go on appeal to the committee to redress such grievances. In yet another bid to ensure that eligible families are not denied the benefit, the Court has roped in the legal services authority in each State and district to ascertain whether compensation has been paid to the kin of everyone recorded as dead due to the pandemic in official records, and facilitate the payment if it is yet to be made. The Supreme Court has done much to grant some succour, low though the quantum may be in the light of the staggering impact the pandemic has had on lives and livelihoods, to millions of people.

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Printable version | May 28, 2022 9:33:09 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/court-and-compensation-the-hindu-editorial-on-ex-gratia-to-kin-of-covid-19-victims/article38299303.ece