New Delhi, Jun 30 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to determine within six weeks the ex-gratia amount that can be paid to each COVID-19 victim, while stating that NDMA has failed to discharge its statutory duty.
A Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Vineet Saran and Justice MR Shah said, “The National Disaster Management Authority is statutorily mandated to provide minimum standards of relief, including ex-gratia to COVID-19 victims.”
The Court said it has carefully examined the provisions of the Disaster Management Act. Section 12 of DMA provides ‘Guidelines for minimum standards of relief,’ which states as follows: “The National Authority shall recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by disaster, which shall include (iii) ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life as also assistance on account of damage to houses and for restoration of means of livelihood.
The Bench further stated that it has carefully examined the issue as to whether the Writ of mandamus can be directed to the Central Government.
“We have discussed it in detail. We have decided that the Government should provide relief to different sectors of the society. It is not proper for this Court to direct that ex-gratia of Rs four lakh should be paid to each COVID-19 victim,” it said.
The apex court disposed of the writ petition with some directions to the Central Government. The Court said the guidelines already recommended for minimum standard of relief to be given. The amount to be given would be decided by taking into account various factors.
The same is to be formulated within six weeks from today. The Guidelines will also be prepared with regards to the issuance of death certificate. The Centre shall take steps by taking into consideration the recommendations made by the Finance Commission in its 16th report.
The Supreme Court has pronounced its judgement in petitions seeking direction to the Centre to provide Ex-Gratia monetary compensation of Rs 4,00,000 to the families of the deceased, who succumbed to COVID-19.
A three-Judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Vineet Saran and MR Shah pronounced their verdict through video conferencing in the pleas filed by Advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal. The matter was originally heard by the Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah.
In its affidavit, the Central government told the Supreme Court that it cannot afford to pay ex-gratia compensation of Rs four lakh each to the families of people, who have died due to Novel Corovirus. The government has also said that the disaster management law mandating compensation applies only to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods.
The Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah had sought the Centre’s response on its COVID-19 compensation policy and death certificates after a petition asked for at least Rs 4 lakh each for victims.
In its 183-page affidavit filed on Saturday night June 19, the Centre said: “If an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh is given for every person who loses life due to Covid-19, the entire amount of SDRF may be spent on this item alone, and total expenditure may go up further.”
“If the entire SDRF funds get consumed on ex-gratia for Covid-19 victims, the states may not have sufficient funds for organizing Covid-19 response, for provision of various essential medical and other supplies, or to take care of other disasters like cyclones, floods, etc. Hence, the prayer of the petitioner for payment of ex-gratia to all deceased persons due to Covid-19 is beyond the fiscal affordability of the State governments,” it said.
Further, it submitted that, “In the case of various disasters, for which such ex-gratia is provided under SDRF norms, the disaster is of a short and finite duration, occurring and ending quickly. Covid-19, on the other hand, is a global pandemic, which has affected all the countries in the world. Within our country, it has affected all the States/Union Territories, which have experienced several waves of Covid-19 cases. There is no precedent of giving ex-gratia for an ongoing disease or for any disaster event of long duration, extending for several months or years.”
The Central government said granting ex-gratia for one disease, while denying the same for those accounting for a larger share of mortality, would not be fair or proper. “It would create unfairness and invidious discrimination between persons suffering from one disease and those suffering from another. Further, unlike floods, earthquake, cyclone, etc., during the present Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of crores of rupees have been spent by Central Government and State Governments on prevention, testing, treatment, quarantine, hospitalization, medicines and vaccination etc. and it is still continuing. It is not known that how much more is required. Thus, Central and State Governments are taking all possible measures to prevent and prepare for future waves of Covid-19.”
Furthermore, it made it clear that under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Section 12, it is the “National Authority”, which is empowered to recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief, including ex-gratia assistance. This is the function entrusted to the Authority by law passed by the Parliament. It is well settled through numerous judgements of the Supreme Court that this is a matter which should be performed by the authority, to whom it has been entrusted and not one where the Court will substitute its own judgement for the decision to be taken by the Executive, the Centre submitted.
The court has also sought response on an issue regarding death certificates/ any letter to the families of deceased, stating the cause of death. Regarding which, the Centre submitted that Covid death will be mentioned in death certificates of every victim. Doctors who fail to certify Covid deaths will be penalised, the affidavit said.
“All deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to COVID-19. The only exception could be where there is a clear alternative cause of death, that cannot be attributed to COVID-19 (accidental trauma, poisoning, acute myocardial infarction), where COVID-19 is an incidental finding,” the Centre said. ILNS/KR/RJ