Supreme Court directs payment of ex-gratia after Centre fails families of Covid victims

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that families of people who have died due to COVID-19 are entitled to ex-gratia payment, asking the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to issue fresh guidelines for providing minimum standards of financial help to such families within six weeks.

A special bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah said that the court cannot direct the Centre to fix a particular amount of financial help, but asked the government to fix the minimum standard of amount to be paid as ex-gratia to family members of those who lost their lives due to COVID-19 while keeping various aspects in mind.

The top court directed the Centre and the NDMA to issue fresh guidelines within six weeks for the minimum standard of relief to be granted to families of victims of COVID-19.

The top court’s verdict came on a batch of pleas seeking ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the dependents of those who died of COVID-19 and formulation of uniform guidelines for issuance of death certificates for such fatalities.

The Centre had earlier submitted by that state governments cannot afford to pay Rs 4 lakh and had instead argued in favour of a “broader approach”. If the family of each COVID-19 victim is paid ex-gratia of this amount, the State Disaster Respond Fund “may” fully be extinguished, the Centre argued.

Until June 30, the official cumulative death toll due to COVID-19 is over 3.98 lakh. Experts, however, estimate that the true toll may be four or five times higher.

It also directs the authorities to issue appropriate guidelines for simplification of the process of issuance of death certificates for COVID-19 fatalities.

The top court asked the Centre to consider formulating an insurance scheme for cremation workers as proposed by the Finance Commission.

The bench also rejected the argument of the Centre for reading “shall” in Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act for grant of ex-gratia amount to victims of disaster as “may”, and said that the NDMA has failed to perform its statutory duties.

According to LiveLaw, Justice Shah, reading out the relevant portions of the judgment, said, “There is a duty cast on the national authority to prescribe minimum standards of relief….There is nothing on record that the national authority has issued any guidelines for minimum standards of relief for COVID victims, which shall include ex-gratia assistance for COVID…The national authority has failed to perform its statutory duty under Section 12 by failing to recommend minimum relief for ex-gratia assistance.”

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