Families of COVID-19 victims must get financial compensation, the Supreme Court said Wednesday morning, giving the NDMA, or National Disaster Management Authority, six weeks to decide on the amount and frame the required guidelines.
Noting it was not within its ambit to decide on compensation rules or amount, the court criticised the NDMA – the agency responsible for such details – for failing to discharge its duty, and said it was bound to give “minimum standards of relief, which includes ex-gratia assistance”.
“We direct NDMA to form guidelines for ex-gratia compensation for family members of persons who succumbed to Covid, as per minimum standards of relief,” a two-member bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, who retires on July 4, and MR Shah said in what will come as huge relief for victims’ families.
“What reasonable amount is to be provided is left to the wisdom of the authority,” the judges said, suggesting that the amount could be fixed keeping in the mind funds and resources available.
Importantly, the court said that as per the Disaster Management Act, “minimum standards of relief”, which includes payment of financial assistance is mandatory and not discretionary.
The centre argued that as per Section 12 of the DMA the word “shall” should be construed as “may”, meaning it is not mandatory to provide compensation.
The court also said death certificates for those who had died of COVID-19 must include the date and cause of death (CoD), and also have mechanisms to correct CoD if the family is not satisfied.
The court’s orders were in response to a plea seeking directions to provide compensation of ₹ 4 lakh to the families of those who had died of COVID-19 or post-Covid complications.
Earlier this month the centre told the court such compensation could not be paid as it applied only to natural disasters. The centre also said states could not afford to pay ₹ 4 lakh to every family.
The centre pointed out that the virus had killed over 3.85 lakh deaths (that number is now nearly four lakh) and states were already under severe financial constraints due to the lockdown.
“Utilisation of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia, may have unfortunate consequences of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good,” the centre said.
On Monday the opposition Congress slammed the centre over this issue, demanding compensation of ₹ 10 lakh per family and saying the government had no right to rule it could not provide this sum.