The ex-gratia payment scheme for the families of those who had succumbed to the Coronavirus pandemic is reportedly in an advanced stage, which when once materialised will be a victory for the campaigners who wanted payment as per minimum standard of relief of NDMA. The Centre has moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking another four weeks to complete the framing of an ex-gratia payment scheme for those who had lost their loved ones to Covid-19. The Centre earlier resisted the direction of the Supreme Court on payment of compensation amounting to the proposed Rs 4 lakh to the families claiming that the financial conditions of the state and Central governments are under severe strain due to the pandemic itself. The apex court had rejected the argument stating the National Disaster Management Authority will fail in discharging its statutory duty if it is unable to provide the minimum standards of relief, including the payment of ex-gratia. Withstanding the fact that an extension has been sought to the deadline that had been set by the apex court there is some succour for the kin of Covid victims as the Centre has declared that the exercise to frame guidelines for payment of ex-gratia payment to the victims of Covid-19 disaster under Section 12 (iii) of the DMA (Disaster Management Act) is in active consideration of the NDMA and going on. The Centre has further emphasised that this exercise is at an advanced stage. However, it has iterated a desire to approach the future path with caution in order to preclude unwanted consequences by taking a little additional time. In its application the Centre mentioned that the framing of the scheme will require a little more in-depth examination before it is finalised and implemented, as “any accelerated formulation, in the respectful submission of the applicant, may result in undesirable results”. However, it guaranteed that in another four weeks NDMA will come out with comprehensive and robust guidelines.
Earlier, in opposition to the ex-gratia recommendation, the Centre had argued that funds of the national and state disaster relief forces have been utilised in tackling the pandemic. In addition to the question of fiscal affordability, the Centre contended that the payment of compensation is in contradiction to the most rational, judicious and optimum usage of fiscal and all other resources of the nation. It went on to remark that no such ex-gratia can be paid.
Buoyed by the decision of the Supreme Court, the opposition Congress Party had demanded the payment of Rs 10 lakh compensation to the relatives and dependents of Covid-19 victims. It spoke of malice and malintent on part of the Centre to deny compensation by excluding Covid-19 from being a disaster on account of its scale and impact. Moreover, the party had castigated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not showing compassion and consideration towards the kin of those who lost their lives due to the novel coronavirus. Quoting the directives of the apex court, the party called for serious introspection on part of the Prime Minister, about his role and responsibility as head of the nation as also what it described as ‘his abject and total failure in protecting lives’. We, the Indian National Congress, demand that the Prime Minister and the Modi government should wake up from their indifference and slumber to the unfolding human tragedy, it stated in an official statement. The party leader Rahul Gandhi had voiced the need for setting up a Covid-19 compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the victims of pandemic.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah had stated that guidelines for ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life due to Covid-19 pandemic should be established while recommending other guidelines for the minimum standards of relief. When faced with the desire of the Centre to fight the direction, the bench inferred that the National Authority has failed to perform its statutory duty cast under Section 12. The bench had noted that if the statutory authority has failed to perform its statutory duty cast under the statute or constitutional duty, the court would be absolutely justified in issuing a writ of mandamus directing the authority to perform its statutory duty. The top court order came on PILs filed by advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal seeking court’s intervention for payment of Rs 4 lakh ex gratia amount to Covid victims’ families.