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'Health Ministry, ICMR have issued guidelines': Centre files detailed affidavit in Supreme Court on COVID-19 death certificates - Here's all you need know

10:57 AM Sep 12, 2021 | FPJ Web Desk

Complying with the September 3 order of the Supreme Court, the Central government, in the late evening on Saturday, filed a detailed affidavit before the top court with respect to the issue of COVID-19 deaths certificates.

In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Centre also submitted that the Office of the Registrar General of India on September 3 had issued a circular to provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the next of kin of the deceased.

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"It is submitted that the guidelines and circular have been issued in respectful compliance of the judgment dated June 30, 2021, in the Reepak Kansal v. Union of India and others, W.P.(C) No. 554 of 2021 and Gaurav Kumar Bansal v. Union of India and others, W.P.(C) No. 539 of 2021," the court said.

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The Centre submitted that in respectful compliance with the directions of the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on September 3, 2021, have jointly issued guidelines for issuance of an 'official document' for COVID-19 related deaths.

A copy of the affidavit further stated that the Office of the Registrar General of India (ORGI) has also issued a circular on September 3, 2021, to provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the next of kin of the deceased. It is submitted that the guidelines and circulars have been issued, it further stated.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (MoHFW) have been issuing specific guidelines to States/Union Territories (UTs) based on World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines and global best practices on reporting COVID-19 deaths.

Relevant officers in States/ UTs have also been trained on the correct recording of deaths related to COVID-19, the affidavit filed by the Centre before the Supreme Court stated.

The Supreme Court had, in a writ petition, directed the Central government to issue simplified guidelines for issuance of an official document relating to COVID-19 deaths to the family members of the deceased, who died due to coronavirus.

The apex court had directed that such guidelines may also provide the remedy to the family members of the deceased who died due to COVID-19 for correction of the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death/Official Document issued by the appropriate authority.

Guiding principles in COVID-19 cases for the purpose of these guidelines are those which are diagnosed through a positive RT-PCR/ Molecular Tests/ RAT or clinically determined through investigations in a hospital/ in-patient facility by a treating physician, while admitted in the hospital/ in-patient facility, the Centre's affidavit stated.

A two-judge bench of the Apex Court, headed by Justice MR Shah and also comprising Justice Aniruddha Bose had on September 3, granted 10 more days further time to the Centre to frame and formulate uniform guidelines for issuance of death certificates with regard to those who succumbed to COVID-19.

The top court had, in its last hearing on August 16, also allowed the plea of the Central government, seeking 4 weeks more time to frame the guidelines on ex gratia assistance and compensation to the families of people who died due to COVID-19.

The Apex Court had directed the Centre to submit any action report on the other guidelines as referred in the earlier judgment authored by Justice Shah, and comprising of Justice (Now Retired) Ashok Bhushan on June 30, 2021.

The Central Government had filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking extension of time to comply with the earlier judgment pronounced by Justice (now retired) Bhushan in the petitions filed by lawyers, seeking ex- Gratia compensation for those family members, who died due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court had in its judgement on June 30, directed the Centre to frame guidelines to pay an ex-gratia compensation to the families of those who died due to COVID-19.

A three-judge bench of the Apex Court had, on June 30, 2021, directed the NDMA to ascertain within six weeks whether an ex-gratia amount can be paid to the family members of those who died due to COVID victim.

The Apex Court also had said in its judgement that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), is statutorily mandated to provide the minimum amount of relief, including an ex-gratia amount of compensation to the COVID victims.

"If it (NDMA) fails in not providing an ex-gratia amount of compensation, then the NDMA has failed in discharging its statutory duty," the Apex Court said in its judgement.

The Apex Court had passed the judgement on June 30, 2021, after hearing the petition filed by Bansal.

The lawyer had moved the Apex Court seeking direction to the authorities concerned to provide an ex-gratia monetary compensation of Rs 4 lakhs (notified in the financial aid) to the family members of the deceased, succumbed to COVID-19, as per MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) letter in view of Section 12 of The Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The petitioner, in his plea, filed before the Supreme Court, had sought immediate appropriate directions to the concerned authorities to pay financial help as laid down by the Central government in its statute and rules to the family members of the deceased, who succumbed to COVID-19 pandemic.

The petitioner had said that "it is the right of the family members to know the real cause of death of their family members/relatives on any official document" and they cited that "the medical officers have not been conducting post mortem of the persons who are dying due to COVID-19." The petitioner had approached the Supreme Court seeking directions to the respondent States to issue death certificates/ any letter to the families of deceased stating therein cause of death.

The petition said that keeping in view the spread of the COVID-19 virus in India and the declaration of COVID-19 as pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), by way of special onetime dispensation, it has been decided to treat it as notified disaster for the purpose of providing assistance under SDRF (State Disaster Response Force).

The apex court fixed the matter for further hearing on September 13, Monday.

In its June 30 verdict, the top court had also ordered steps to simplify guidelines for issuance and correction of death certificates/official documents, stating the exact cause of death, that is, 'Death due to COVID-19' for enabling dependents to get benefits of welfare schemes.

The top court's verdict had come on two separate pleas filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking directions to the Centre and the states to provide Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of coronavirus victims as provisioned under the Act.

Four intervenors, who had lost their family members due to COVID have also moved the top court through advocate Sumeer Sodhi contending that there cannot be any discrimination in the amounts being paid by different states to family members of those, who had succumbed to the deadly infection.

(With inputs ANI and PTI)

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