New Delhi: Months after states took the lead in providing financial assistance for the kin of Covid-19 victims, and after being persuaded by the Supreme Court, the Central government on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has decided to give an ex gratia of Rs 50,000 – to be paid by the states from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF).
The compensation will be paid against not only the deaths that have already occurred, but for future ones, the Centre said. The top court had on June 30 had ruled that the Centre cannot shy away from its responsibility under the Disaster Management Act and had directed the NDMA to frame guidelines for payment of compensation to the kin of those who died due to Covid.
While rejecting petitioners’ demand for Rs 4 lakh ex gratia, the apex court had asked the NDMA to determine the quantum within six weeks and said that the amounts to be paid from the NDRF and SDRF would be over and above the ex gratia paid by states.
Holding that by not providing an ex-gratia amount the NDMA had failed in discharging its statutory duty, a Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan had directed the NDMA to determine in six weeks the ex-gratia amount to be paid to the family of each Covid victim. However, the six-week deadline got extended to months and on September 3, the top court expressed displeasure over delay in framing guidelines for issuance of death certificates to the families of victims.
Finally, the Centre on Wednesday informed that the NDMA has fixed Rs 50,000 ex gratia. Claimants have to submit an application to receive the relief, it said, adding that those eligible would get the amount through the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA). With the country recording nearly 4.5 lakh Covid deaths, the financial burden of this will add up to Rs 2,250 crore for states, though funds for the SDRF are largely released by the Centre.
To note, the top 10 states reporting the most Covid deaths are Maharashtra (1.38 lakh), Karnataka (37,000), Tamil Nadu (35,000), Delhi (25,000), UP (23,000), Kerala (22,500), West Bengal (19,000), Punjab (16,000), Andhra Pradesh (14,000) and Chhattisgarh (13,500).
Justifying the modest amount fixed by the NDMA, the Centre said, “Covid-19 is a disaster that has not abated. The number of deaths continues to rise. There is uncertainty about the new variants of the virus and likely future waves. Therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the total final financial burden emanating from the ex gratia. Financial prudence demands that we plan in a manner that assistance can be provided to a larger number of people should the number of deaths rise.”
“The state governments have already been incurring large expenditure from the SDRF on various aspects of Covid-19 prevention, management and response. In addition, the central government, from the national Budget, has announced several measures to prevent Covid-19 (nationwide vaccination drive) as well as to provide relief assistance to those affected by Covid-19. State governments have also announced welfare measures from state budgets. So, in effect, some financial and material assistance has already been provided in different forms to some of the most vulnerable sections,” it said, adding that money has to be kept aside for assistance to people suffering from other natural disasters.
States had taken the lead in providing ex gratia to the kin of Covid victims, not from the SDRF but from other sources like the chief minister’s relief fund. Those providing ex gratia are Andhra Pradesh (Rs 10 lakh to orphaned children, Rs 5 lakh in case of death of one parent), Bihar (Rs 4 lakh), Haryana (Rs 2 lakh only to BPL families), Karnataka and Assam (Rs 1 lakh), Tamil Nadu (Rs 5 lakh to orphaned children and Rs 3 lakh in case of death of single parent), Tripura (Rs 10 lakh in three instalments) and Nagaland (Rs 10 lakh only to the kin of working journalists).
The Centre had on June 30 informed the court that Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and J&K were not providing any ex gratia.
It said the Delhi government’s Mukhyamantri Covid-19 Pariwar Arthik Sahayata Yojna has promised Rs 50,000 to kin of Covid victims. “The scheme will be executed through the digital mode only and an online platform in this regard is being developed. Till June 22 no compensation has been paid under this scheme,” it said. The scheme also envisaged an additional monthly pension of Rs 2,500 if the deceased was the sole bread-earner of the family.