New Delhi, Sept 3 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today lashed out at the Central government for its hesitant attitude towards paying ex gratia assistance to family members of people who succumbed to Covid-19 and directed that it is mandatory for the Government under the law to provide the compensation immediately.
A bench comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice Aniruddha Bose rejected Centre’s contention that it was not bound to make ex-gratia payments since Covid-19 was different from other natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, and said that once Covid-19 had been notified as a disaster, it was mandatory to contemplate a scheme for ex-gratia payment for loss of life due to the infection.
The Centre emphasized that DMA will have to be interpreted to mean that such a scheme on ex-gratia was only re-commendatory and not mandatory.
The Bench was hearing a plea relating to Union of India’s non compliance with Court’s directions for framing of guidelines for issuance of death certificates & steps taken on recommendations made by Finance Commission for the ex Gratia assistance to family members of people who succumbed to Covid-19.
The Top Court directed the Centre to frame guidelines as it was mandatory to contemplate a scheme for ex-gratia payment for loss of life due to the infection as Covid-19 has been notified as a disaster.
The government in its affidavit stated that an ex-gratia amount of Rs 4 lakh could not be paid for Covid-19 deaths as it was beyond fiscal affordability, and the finances of the central and state governments were under severe strain.
The Court said, Sub-Section (3) of Section 12 provides for ex-gratia compensation to people who have died or suffered any kind of loss due to a disaster. The collective reading of the Section makes it clear with the use of the word “shall” and “ex-gratia” that it is mandatory for the centre under the law to provide the compensation immediately.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati who was representing the Centre sought 10 days time to file its affidavit.
The bench was annoyed at the Government’s dilly-dallying attitude and said, “the order was passed long back. By the time you (Centre) will take further steps, 3rd wave will also be over. The order on death certificate, death, etc was passed long back,” the bench remarked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured the bench that this issue is under consideration and the Centre will soon come up with the Ex-Gratia assistance plan.
The Petitioner Advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal had filed a petition relating to Union of India’s compliance with Court’s directions for framing of guidelines for issuance of death certificates & steps taken on recommendations made by Finance Commission for the ex gratia assistance to family members of people who succumbed to Covid-19 and urged the bench that Centre should respect court’s order.
Bench said today we are adjourning the matter for the purpose of compliance with other directions. And said, “We had directed the Centre to place compliance reports on other directions passed on 30th June by us and file its reply on or before September 11, 2021.”
The Supreme Court had on June 30, 2021 directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to lay down guidelines for the minimum standard of relief, including payment of ex-gratia assistance to family members of people who succumbed to Covid-19.
The top court had directed NDMA to form guidelines for ex-gratia compensation for family members of persons who succumbed to Covid as per minimum standards of relief. The reasonable amount to be provided is left to the wisdom of national authority.”
The Supreme Court in its ruling stated that the language of Section 12 of the DMA was clear and unambiguous. The Court noted that Section 12 of the law used the word “shall” in reference to guidelines and concluded that the provision was mandatory, and therefore, the centre was legally obligated to pay ex-gratia compensation under DMA.
Emphasizing that the beneficial provision of the legislation must be literally construed so as to fulfill the statutory purpose and not frustrate it, the bench noted that once Covid-19 had been notified as a disaster, it was mandatory to contemplate a scheme for ex-gratia payment for loss of life due to the infection.
“Not recommending any guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life due to Covid pandemic, while recommending other guidelines for the minimum standards of relief, it can be said that the National Authority has failed to perform its statutory duty cast under Section 12 and, therefore, a writ of mandamus is to be issued to the National Authority to recommend appropriate guidelines for ex-gratia assistance,” the bench said.
The bench also noted that there was no document on record to show that after a recommendation of the Finance Commission against a scheme for ex-gratia payments, there was any decision made by the PM-led NDMA, which was statutorily mandated to issue these guidelines. “Ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life is part of minimum standards of relief, which must be considered by the National Authority while providing for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to the persons affected by disaster in the present case, Covid-19 pandemic,” the bench said./ILNS/KY/KR/SNG