The Supreme Court on Monday expressed concern over the low number of claims for ex-gratia compensation for COVID-19 deaths and directed the state governments to inform if wide publicity has been given concerning the scheme for compensation.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna directed the chief secretaries of all the states to submit compliance reports on the number of deaths recorded, claim forms received so far, and the number of persons to whom the amount of compensation has been disbursed.
The top court also directed them to apprise if any Grievance Redressal Committee in each district has been constituted or not and whether any wide publicity has been given concerning the scheme for compensation and any exclusive online portal to invite applications and for disbursal of the amount of compensation has been created or not.
"The particulars shall be supplied by all the States to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India/NDMA on or before December 3, 2021. The status report on the aforesaid aspects shall also be filed by the concerned States on or before the next date of hearing," the bench said.
The top court was hearing a batch of pleas by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal and intervenors represented by advocate Sumeer Sodhi seeking ex-gratia assistance to family members of COVID-19 victims.
The apex court also directed the Gujarat government to create an exclusive online portal to invite applications for disbursal of compensation. The bench said there is a need that the procedure to claim compensation is simplified and while submitting the applications for making claims, the same shall be online and for which an exclusive portal be created by the State Governments.
"The aforesaid shall facilitate the applicants to make applications for compensation from their place and even a person from the remote village may not have to go to the distant place and/or a city area. It will make the procedure easier and even avoid long queues at the Collectors /Mamlatdars office," the bench said.
During the hearing, the apex court noted that in many of the States, the number of forms/claims received is on a much lower side.
"Some of the States have not even furnished any particulars. For example, States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, UT of Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, UT of Ladakh, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Maharashtra have not provided any information to the Union Government, asked by the Union of India pursuant to our earlier order.
"From the data, it also can be seen that the forms/applications received for compensation are on a very lower side," it said. The top court observed that either there is no wide publicity given by the concerned States concerning the compensation offered for the death of a person who has died due to Covid 19 or the concerned claimants are not made aware where to apply.
"It is also required to be noted that as per the data available, so far as the State of Andhra Pradesh is concerned, the deaths recorded is 14,431 and the claim forms received are 28,468, which is double the deaths recorded.
"It may be because of our earlier order that a claimant can make an application for compensation in case the RT PCR report of the deceased was positive and he died within a period of 30 days, irrespective of the cause mentioned in the death certificate. The number of claimants may be likely to increase in other States as well," the bench said.
The matter is listed for the next hearing on December 6. The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to gather information from the States on the progress made on disbursal of ex-gratia compensation of Rs 50,000 to the kin of COVID-19 victims and pulled up the Gujarat government for issuing notification constituting a scrutiny committee contrary to its directions.
On November 18, the top court had pulled up the Gujarat government for issuing a notification which is "just contrary" to the directions given regarding ex-gratia to the next of kin of those who died due to COVID-19 and said an attempt has been made to "overreach" the directions issued by the apex court.
The top court had on October 4 said that no state shall deny the ex-gratia compensation of Rs 50,000 to the next of kin of the deceased due to COVID-19 solely on the ground that the death certificate does not mention the virus as the cause of death.
The court had also said that the ex-gratia is to be disbursed within 30 days from the date of applying to the concerned district disaster management authority or the district administration along with the proof of the death of the deceased due to coronavirus and the cause of death being certified as died due to COVID-19.
The top court had said that its directions for payment of compensation to the family members of the persons, who died due to COVID-19, are very clear and there was no requirement at all of constituting the scrutiny committee to award compensation.
The bench had said it was very much made clear that even in a case, wherein the death certificate the cause is not shown as death due to COVID-19 but if found that deceased was declared positive for coronavirus and has died within 30 days, automatically his or her family members are entitled to the compensation without any further conditions.