By LE Staff

New Delhi, June 30, 2021: The Supreme Court today ordered the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to frame guidelines for payment of ex gratia compensation to family members of persons who succumbed to Covid-19.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan also directed the NDMA to ascertain within 6 weeks the ex-gratia amount that can be paid to the family members of those who died due to the infection, while observing that the NDMA failed to do its statutory duty to prescribe minimum standards.

The top court also asked the government to issue death certificates which specify Covid-19 as the cause of the deaths and create insurance policies for medical treatment of Covid-19.

“We gave considered the relevant provisions of the Disaster Management Act. The word used “shall” under the DM Act is mandatory…There’s nothing on record to show that any such guidelines have been issued by the NDMA. It is a mandatory statutory duty of the NDMA to prescribe minimum standards of relief plus ex gratia compensation. It can be said that the national authority has failed to do its duty. The question is whether the court can direct the government to pay a particular ex gratia amount of 4 lakh. We have discussed the scope of judicial review,” the Supreme Court bench said in its order.

The top court was hearing a plea seeking ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of all those who succumbed to the virus. The Centre had submitted by affidavit that state governments cannot afford to pay the ex-gratia amount and had argued in favour of a broader approach including health interventions.

In its affidavit, the Centre submitted that ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh is beyond the affordability of state governments and argued that if Rs 4 lakh is paid to the kin of each, it “may possibly” consume the entire amount of the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), leaving states with insufficient funds for organising a response to the pandemic, or to take care of other disasters.

The government pointed out that public health is a state subject under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution and that the combined 2021-22 funds for 12 notified disasters for SDRFs for all states is Rs 22,184 crore.

“The government has to decide its priorities and reliefs. It has to provide healthcare, food and shelter. It has to take care of the economy,” the Supreme Court said. “Ex gratia compensation will have financial implications. No state or country has unlimited financial resources. It is not appropriate for this court to direct payment of the particular amount of 4 lakh. Priority is to be fixed by the government,” the Supreme Court said.

Till date, 3.98 people have succumbed to the infection, the Health Ministry data shows.

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