BY- DIVYA GOYAL
In reference to Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 according to which guidelines should be recommended by the national authority and these guidelines should be related to minimum standards of relief for the persons affected by the disaster and this shall include ex- gratia assistance (minimum standards of relief and ex-gratia payment to COVID-19 victims or victims lost life due to complication caused after COVID- 19 i.emucormycosis ( black fungus)) a petition was filed by the advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and ReepakKansal. The petition asked for at least Rs. 4 Lakhs each for victims then the bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Ashok Bhushan and the Hon’ble bench sought the Centre’s response on its COVID-19 compensation policy and death certificates.
The Supreme Court was told by the Central government that the ex- gratia compensation of Rs. 4 lakhs each to the families of people who have died due to COVID-19 is beyond fiscal affordability. Further, the government also added that the compensation mandated under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 can only be applied to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, etc.
The center argued that if an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 4 Lakhs will be given to every person who lost life due to COVID-19 then the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) will only be spent on this cause and the total expenditure may increase and there will be lack of funds for organizing COVID-19 response, for other provisions like medical and other supplies.
The center also argued that in case of natural disasters such ex- gratia is provided under SDRF norms as natural disasters are for short and finite duration i.e. occurring and ending quickly but COVID- 19 is a global pandemic and has affected all the countries in the world and in our country also various states and union territories have experienced gruesome situation due to COVID-19.
So, the ongoing disease or disaster event is of long duration and has already extended for several months but there is no such precedent that gives ex- gratia for such a long period.
The govt. also said ex- gratia payment for one disease by denying the same for another which has a larger share of morality will not be proper or fair as it would create unfairness and discrimination between the persons who are suffering from one and other from another and already the government is spending a large amount on prevention, testing, treatment, quarantine, hospitalization, medicines, and vaccination process without realizing that how much more sum will be required.
“National Authority ” mentioned under section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is empowered to recommend the guidelines for the minimum standards of relief which include ex- gratia payment. This function is performed by such authority as it is entrusted by-law passed by the Parliament. In this regard, various judgments have been passed by the SC according to them the matter which is to be performed by such authority, to which it has been entrusted then the Court cannot substitute the decision of the Executive for its own judgment. The court in response to an issue regarding the uniform policy or set guidelines for any letter to the families of deceased, stating the cause of death which can help affected families. For this, the center submitted that COVID death will be mentioned on every certificate of death of every victim, and in the case where doctors fail to do this then they will be penalized. It is a herculean task to determine the exact number of COVID deaths as doctors are not mentioning the same cause of death and figure in undercounted and until now morbidities of non-hospital have not been recorded.