New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to provide details on compensation provided to people who have succumbed to Covid-19 by each state and what fund was being utilized.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah that it is not the case that government doesn't have funds to pay ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh to kin of Covid victims, but the focus on expenditure is wholistic, which includes using the funds for rehabilitation, mitigation, preparedness. Justice Shah responded, "So you say you don't have the money for ex-gratia but for other measures. It will have a wide ramification if government says it has no funds." The bench sought clarification from the Centre on this aspect.
The bench asked Mehta to give details of compensation amount paid by each state government to the families of those who succumbed to Covid-19, and from which fund the payment would be made. The Centre had informed the top court that most states are paying from funds other than State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF).
A counsel appearing for an intervenor in the matter submitted that there is no uniform scheme on compensation to Covid victims. He argued that in Delhi, Rs 50,000 is being paid while in Bihar, Rs 4 lakh is paid for Covid deaths. Insisting on a uniform compensation policy, he said, "Why this disparity? Why should the Centre allow this? How could people in the same situation be treated unequally?"
The bench queried, is there any decision by the national authority not to give ex-gratia?
Mehta replied he is not aware if the national authority has taken a decision or not, and submitted that the finance commission has taken a call though. He added that the commission has disbursed the finance to state disaster response and tried to help the people affected by the Covid pandemic.
The bench responded that the commission can't override statutory obligations? Where is the decision by the national authority?
Secondly, on the aspect of a uniform policy and guidelines for issuance of death certificates for those affected with Covid-19, the top court noted that prima facie it finds the process very complicated. "Can it not be simplified? What's the remedy available for those whose death certificates have been wrongly issued? You need to simplify the process rather than making it more confusing", the bench told the Centre.
After hearing the matter for over two hours, the top court asked Mehta, senior advocate S.B. Upadhyay and other lawyers to file written submissions in three days.
In its affidavit, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that finances of states and Centre are under severe strain, due to the reduction in tax revenues and increase in health expenses on account of the coronavirus pandemic. And Rs 4 lakh compensation can't be paid to all those who died due to Covid-19 as it would exhaust the disaster relief funds, and also impact the Centre and states' preparation to address future waves of Covid-19.
The top court reserved the verdict on pleas seeking directions for compensation of Rs 4 lakh be paid to the families of those who have died of Covid.