The Supreme Court on Monday observed that it, prima facie, is of the view that deaths of Covid patients by suicide must be treated as Covid deaths, and the Centre should reconsider non-inclusion of such deaths in its guidelines.
A bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and A.S. Bopanna told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, that the court has gone through the Centre's affidavit and it seems to be fine.
However, it pointed out few issues, such as what about the persons who died by suicide while they were suffering from Covid, and how will the states implement the policy issued by the Centre.
The bench further queried as to what will happen about certificates that have already been issued and also what about the documents provided by the hospitals.
Expressing satisfaction with the Centre's decision on a Covid-19 death certificate for granting compensation, the bench observed that there are some errors, which needs to be dealt with.
With the Health Ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research holding that "deaths occurring due to poisoning, suicide, homicide, deaths due to accident etc will not be considered as Covid-19 deaths even if Covid-19 is an accompanying condition", the court observed that it is prima facie of the view that Covid patients who had committed suicide should be treated as Covid death.
Advocate Gaurav Bansal, who had moved the plea for compensation, said that guidelines for an official document for Covid-19 deaths, which was annexed with Centre's compliance affidavit, stated that the government has decided to not consider the death by suicide as Covid-19 death, even if Covid-19 is an accompanying condition. In an additional affidavit, he contended that this is irrational, illogical and unreasonable, hence discriminatory.
Cited a Nimhans research paper, as well as the National Mental Health Policy issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, he submitted that even Nimhans terms suicide of a person who is Covid positive as Covid-19 suicide, therefore non-inclusion is nothing but irrational and it needs reconsideration.
As the top court asked the Centre to reconsider its decision on this aspect, the Centre's counsel submitted before the bench that it will re-examine the issue.
The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing on September 23, besides directing the Centre to issue guidelines on ex-gratia assistance for next of kin of those who succumbed to Covid.
Last week, the Centre had told the top court that the Health Ministry and the ICMR on September 3, have jointly issued guidelines for issuance of an 'official document' for Covid-19 related deaths.
The top court, in its June 30 judgment, ordered steps to simplify guidelines for issuance and correction of death certificates/official documents. The judgment came on two separate pleas filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Bansal seeking directions to the Centre and states to provide Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of those who succumbed to Covid. The top court has then directed the Centre to frame guidelines on ex-gratia assistance within 6 weeks.