The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to pay compensation to the families of COVID-19 victims and said that the onus of deciding the amount lies with the government.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to frame guidelines on the ex-gratia compensation within six weeks so that at least some amount of compensation can be paid.
The apex court has also asked the Centre to issue death certificates to the Covid-19 deceased, specifying the pandemic as the cause of the deaths and create insurance policies for medical treatment of the disease.
It further said that the NDMA failed to do its statutory duty to prescribe minimum standards, adding, “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.”
“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.
This ruling came after the Centre, on June 20, told the Apex Court that it cannot pay Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of those who succumbed to COVID-19 as it would exhaust all the disaster relief funds in response to a PIL filed by Gaurav Kumar Bansal, seeking “minimum standards of relief” and ex-gratia payment to Covid-19 deceased.
The Centre had also maintained that the disaster management law mandated compensation only to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods etc.