Detail in relief: On SC order on financial assistance to kin of COVID-19 families

The most welcome feature of the Supreme Court of India’s order detailing the modalities for payment of ex gratia financial assistance to the families of those who died of COVID-19 is the stern caveat that no State shall deny the benefit solely on the ground that a person’s death certificate did not specify the cause of death as due to the novel coronavirus disease. Thanks to the Court’s assertiveness, the Union government shed its initial wariness about incurring the financial burden of compensating the next of kin of the over 4.49 lakh people officially recorded as having died due to the virus infection. The National Disaster Management Authority issued guidelines last month, specifying that ₹50,000 be paid for each death. While the primary requirement to avail of this assistance is that the death should be certified as having been caused by COVID-19, the Court has rightly ruled that the cause mentioned in the death certificate would not be conclusive by itself, and that if other documents are provided, the family shall be entitled to the ex gratia payment. Experience over the last year-and-a-half has shown that hospitals tend to attribute some deaths to co-morbidities rather than the infection; and many died after testing negative during a spell of hospitalisation or after discharge. It has now been made clear that deaths occurring within 30 days from the date of testing or from the date of being clinically determined a COVID-19 case shall be treated as eligible for the aid, “even if the death takes place outside the hospital/in-patient facility”.

Given the fact that independent data analysis has revealed a possibly huge undercount in the official COVID-19 toll maintained by the State governments and the Centre, the view that only a certified COVID-19 death should be eligible for compensation has been rightly discarded. Of course, some documentary evidence will still be required to establish the cause, but once it is submitted, the payment should be disbursed within 30 days. It is a matter of consolation to those likely to have their claims rejected or disputed that the Court has created an appeal mechanism in the form of Grievance Redressal Committees at the district level. These panels can issue amended official documents to certify COVID-19 deaths, as well as the power to call for records or information from the hospitals where the deceased were admitted. To buttress the need for a humane approach, the Court has included those who took their own lives under the shadow of the pandemic in the ambit of the scheme. It has also advised the authorities to avoid technicalities in processing claims. The assistance will be welcomed by those affected, not because it will be enough to address the adverse impact that numberless families have suffered due to the pandemic, but as a sign that there is some recognition of their plight and immediate succour available.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 1:04:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/detail-in-relief-on-sc-order-on-financial-assistance-to-kin-of-covid-19-families/article36848301.ece

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