The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday directed the central government to frame within six weeks the guidelines for providing a minimum relief to the kin of those who succumbed to Covid-19.
“The National Disaster Management Authority has a statutory obligation to frame guidelines for minimum ex-gratia assistance for the victims of Covid pandemic,” the court said.
The court held that section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, will include an ex-gratia and rejected the central government’s argument that it was not a mandatory provision.
However, the top court noted that it cannot direct an amount that the Centre will have to pay.
It stated that the NDMA failed to discharge its functions by not recommending an ex-gratia assistance.
“There is a duty cast on the national authority to prescribe minimum standards of relief. There is nothing on record that National Authority has issued any guidelines,” said the SC.
The Centre had earlier this month told the SC that compensation of ₹4 lakh cannot be paid to the families of those who have died of Covid-19 as the finances of state governments and the Centre are under severe strain.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Union home ministry said the Centre, through “minimum standard relief” under section 12 of the DM Act has taken several steps providing for substantial and speedy measures by way of, increase in the health, infrastructure, ensuring food safety to every citizen.
“Already the finances of state governments and the central government are under severe strain because of the reduction in tax revenues and increase in health expenses on account of the pandemic,” said the government.
“Thus, utilization of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia may have the unfortunate consequence of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good,” it added.
The government also urged courts not to interfere in policy decisions.
The petitioners in the case had demanded a compensation of ₹4 lakh to victims killed from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).
They also sought relief regarding simplification of the process for issuance of death certificates of persons who lost lives due to Covid.