SC directs Centre to issue guidelines within 6 weeks for providing ex-gratia to kin of Covid victims

The top court also directed authorities to issue appropriate guidelines for simplification of process of issuance of death certificates for Covid fatalities.
Supreme Court (Photo| Shekhar Yadav, EPS)
Supreme Court (Photo| Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

NEW DELHI:  The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the Centre’s contention that it cannot pay ex-gratia to Covid-19 victims and directed the government to frame guidelines specifying the relief amount within six weeks. The court held that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) failed to perform its duty by not recommending minimum standards of relief to be provided to the families of those who had died of Covid-19. 

A two-judge bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah directed the NDMA to frame guidelines for ex-gratia but left the amount to the discretion of the national authority. The bench refused to accede to the request of the petitioner to provide Rs 4 lakh as ex-gratia compensation, saying it was beyond judicial review. 

“The impact and effect of the present pandemic/disaster would be different from the other disasters/natural disasters for which ex-gratia assistance is provided. There shall not be any justification to provide for the same/similar amount by way of ex-gratia assistance as provided in the case of other disasters/natural disaster, i.e., Rs 4 lacs,” the court held.

It also directed the authorities concerned to issue simplified guidelines for issuance of death certificates/official documents stating the exact cause of death, that is ‘Death due to Covid-19’ for enabling dependents to get benefits of welfare schemes. There will be also facility for correcting the cause of death if the family is not satisfied, the court added. 

Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, which deals with minimum standards of relief to the affected persons, says it shall include ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life. The Centre sought to interpret the word ‘shall’ as ‘may’, but the court read it as mandatory since Covid is already a ‘notified disaster’. 

Can’t afford Rs 4 lakh, said Centre
The Centre had stated that states would not be able to afford ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh as their finances are under severe strain due to low tax revenues and increase in Covid healthcare expenses

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