NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday directed all states governments and Union Territories to appoint dedicated nodal officer to coordinate with the member secretary of the state legal service authority (SLSA) to facilitate payment of ex gratia compensation to family members of COVID-19 victims.
A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna also directed the state governments to give full particulars like name, address and death certificate to the concerned SLSA, as also complete details with respect to orphans, within one week from today (Friday) failing which the matter shall be viewed very seriously.
The top court reiterated that applications seeking compensation should not be rejected on technical grounds and if any technical glitch is found, the states concerned should give them opportunity to cure defects as the ultimate goal of the welfare state is to provide some solace and compensation to victims.
It said that states should make all endeavours to pay the compensation to the victims within a maximum period of 10 days from the receipt of the claim.
"Despite our earlier order directing all the state governments to give full particulars of the deaths due to COVID-19 registered with their portal and the number of persons to whom the ex gratia payment is made, it appears that most of the states have given only statistics and no full particulars are given," it said.
"The object and purpose of our earlier order to give full particulars was to see that at least with respect to those cases which are registered with the state governments if they have not approached the appropriate authorities for compensation," the bench added.
"The legal services authority will reach them and see that they make an application and they act as facilitator as a bridge. Similarly the particulars with respect to orphans are not given. We direct all the state governments to give full particulars including their name, address, death certificate etc. to the concerned state legal service authority including full particulars with respect to orphans within one week from today failing which the matter shall be viewed very seriously," it said.
The apex court said that the endeavour of legal services authority would be to reach to those sufferers/victims who have yet not approached for whatever reasons.
"We also direct the concerned state governments to appoint a dedicated officer, not below the rank of deputy secretary in Chief Minister Secretariat, who shall be in constant touch with the member secretary of the state legal service authority so that he may coordinate with him and see to it that the applications are received from eligible persons," the apex court said.
"As and when the particulars are given on verification, the member secretary finds that out of the case registered , some of family members are yet not given compensation, the member secretary to reach to them through the secretary DLSA/ secretary Taluka and para legal volunteers," it added.
"Their function would be to facilitate those who could not approach to make an application for compensation and see that they get compensation. Their role shall be of ombudsman as a bridge between the victims and the government. If there is any difficulty found by the member secretary he may immediately approach the concerned person hereinabove and all are directed to cooperate," the bench said.
The apex court also rapped the Maharasthtra government for rejecting applications submitted offline seeking compensation. "No application should be rejected for any application which is submitted offline. You are not doing charity. As a welfare state it is their duty. Why are you sending people from pillar to post. Do it from the bottom of the heart," the bench said.
"There shall be no rejection on the ground that the application is filed offline. Wherever applications are rejected, the state government is directed to review within one week and grant compensation. Maharashtra is directed to give particulars of claims rejected along with reasons to member secretary of state legal service secretary and if it is found on technical ground that those persons are given opportunity to rectify mistakes and reconsider applications," the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on March 7.
Advocate Gaurav Bansal, who is the petitioner in the case, submitted before the bench that some media reports have stated that in Karnataka in Yadgir district, cheques given to some of the victims have bounced.
The apex court asked the counsel for the state government to ensure that cheques do not bounce. With regards to Rajasthan, the top court noted that it has applied for Rs10 crore budgetary allocation and said the amount has to be paid from state disaster management fund. Advocate Tarini Kamakhya Nayak also appeared for one of the states.
Taking a cue from the Gujarat High Court order passed in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake in the State, the apex court had earlier directed all the States to share the particulars of registered death due to COVID along with details of payment of compensation with State Legal Services Authorities to reach out to the affected families.
The top court was hearing a batch of pleas filed by Bansal and intervenors, represented by advocate Sumeer Sodhi, seeking ex-gratia assistance to family members of COVID-19 victims. The apex court, which was annoyed over the non-disbursal of Rs 50,000 ex-gratia to the kin/family members of those who lost their lives due to COVID-19, had pulled up the state governments.
It had said on October 4, 2021 that no state shall deny ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 to the next of kin of the deceased due to COVID-19 solely on the ground that the death certificate does not mention the virus as the cause of death.
The court had also said that the ex-gratia is to be disbursed within 30 days from the date of applying to the district disaster management authority or the district administration concerned along with the proof of the death of the deceased due to coronavirus and the cause of death being certified as died due to COVID-19.
The top court had said that its directions for payment of compensation to the family members of the persons, who died due to COVID-19, are very clear and there was no requirement at all of constituting the scrutiny committee to award compensation.
It had said it was very much made clear that even in a case where, in the death certificate, the cause is not shown as death due to COVID-19 but if found that deceased was declared positive for coronavirus and has died within 30 days, automatically his or her family members are entitled to the compensation without any further conditions.