The Supreme Court (SC) on June 30, Wednesday morning directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to frame and issue guidelines for providing minimum standards of financial help to the family members of those who are succumbed to Covid-19. The SC stated, families of Covid-19 victims must get financial compensation, giving the NDMA six weeks to decide on the amount which should include ex-gratia and formulate appropriate guidelines. The Supreme Court order came after it heard the pleas of the Central government. A few days ago, the Centre had pleaded and held the SC that Rs 4 lakh compensation cannot be paid to all family members of those who died due to the Covid pandemic as it would exhaust the limit of the disaster relief funds.
The Supreme Court said that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has a statutory obligation to frame guidelines for minimum ex-gratia assistance for the victims of the Covid 19 pandemic. The court criticized the NDMA and stated that the national authority had failed to perform its duty under Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act.
The court ruled, oppositely, the top court held that the mandate under Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act to lay down guidelines for minimum standards of relief including payment of ex-gratia assistance. It is mandatory and not discretionary. The center is bound to provide minimum standards of relief. In failing to do so, the National Authority has to face the consequences.
A special two-member bench of Judges of the apex court headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, who retires on July 4, and MR Shah stated in their verdict that the court cannot direct the Central government to fix the amount of financial help but the government can fix the minimum standard of an amount to be paid as ex-gratia assistance to families of those who lost their loved ones due to daunting Coronavirus while keeping various aspects in mind. The compensation money will be a huge relief for the families of victims. The policy of the Centre is based on several factors. Thus, it would not be proper for this court to direct a particular amount of compensation. No country in this world has unlimited resources. Dispensation of the same is based on some facts, circumstances and law.
The Supreme Court's order came after a few PILs which were filed by Advocate Gaurav Kr. Bansal and Advocate Deepak Kansal. They were seeking court’s intervention for payment of Rs 4 lakh to the Covid victim's families. Gaurav Bansal cited Section 12(iii) of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) providing for ex-gratia monetary compensation for all the families of those who succumbed during the notified disaster.
In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the Centre submitted that compensation amount of Rs 4 lakh is beyond the affordability of state governments. Further, the Centre argued that paying Rs 4 lakh to each of the families may consume the entire amount of the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) which will leave the states with insufficient funds for organizing a response to the Covid pandemic or to take care of other disasters.
The Central government even pointed out that public health is a state subject under the 7th Schedule of the constitution. Thus, the combined 2021-2022 funds for 12 notified disasters for State Disaster Relief Funds for all states would be Rs 22,184 crore.
While accepting the government's argument, The SC passed the judgment and directed the NDMA to issue minimum standards for relief so that some amount of compensation could be paid. Meanwhile, the bench of Justices also asked the government to issue death certificates for those deceased due to Covid-19 and create insurance policies for medical treatment of the Covid pandemic. It must include the date and cause of death (CoD).
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