Vital relief: On COVID-19 death compensation

The court-mediated decision for COVID-19 death compensation will help the poorest

Updated - September 24, 2021 12:01 pm IST

Published - September 24, 2021 12:02 am IST

It took an assertive Supreme Court to persuade a reluctant Centre, and in a welcome turn of events, families of those who died of COVID-19 are to get ex gratia financial relief of ₹50,000 per deceased individual within 30 days of submitting the necessary documents. The staggering impact of the pandemic cannot be meaningfully addressed with a token sum, but it nevertheless provides immediate succour to families that have lost breadwinners and productive members. No other scourge in living memory has taken a toll of tens of thousands of lives in 18 months, although India has high chronic and invisible mortality due to disease and road traffic accidents . As of September 13, WHO recorded 4,45,768 COVID-19 deaths in India and 3,35,31,498 confirmed cases , indicating that the current ex gratia outlay would be of the order of ₹2,300 crore. The relief amount proposed by the National Disaster Management Authority is to be paid out of the State Disaster Response Fund, which represents a dedicated facility to deal with notified disasters, including COVID-19; State authorities will create a people-friendly claims mechanism. Fresh audits and recertification of deaths have become an important factor, given the move by several States to keep virus mortality numbers low, attribute a significant number of deaths to co-morbidities rather than the infection, and the indisputable undercounting of lives lost in the two phases of the pandemic.

The ex gratia payment decision puts the issue of compensation on a sound footing, and provides clarity for future cases, but the task before the States is to ensure that the process is easy, accurate and empathetic. It should be possible for such claimants to submit a simple form electronically. More challenging will be the issue of resolving cases where the medical certification of cause of death has not acknowledged it as COVID-19. In fact, such disputes have already entered the realm of litigation, with families seeking judicial relief, because doctors refuse proper certification and cite underlying conditions of patients based on Government instructions. Also, the Centre must consider providing additional compensation in the future, treating COVID-19 on a par with other disasters such as cyclones, major accidents, building collapses and industrial mishaps, where the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund has been sanctioning ₹2 lakh for death and ₹50,000 for serious injury. In a positive move, the demand for inclusion of COVID-19 cases for compensation where people took their own lives due to mental agony has been accepted. Going forward, the Centre must now quickly set up risk insurance for disasters as suggested by the XV Finance Commission, to which States will readily contribute.

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