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Pleas in Supreme Court seek Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia to kin of those who died of COVID-19

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New Delhi, May 24: The Supreme Court on Monday sought the Centre's reply on pleas seeking ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the families of those who have died from COVID-19 and said that there should be a uniform policy for issuing death certificates to those succumbing to the deadly virus.

A vacation bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah also asked the Centre to place before it the ICMR guidelines on death certificates for COVID-19 victims, saying there should be uniform policy for issuing such documents.

COVID

The apex court was hearing two separate pleas seeking directions to the Centre and states to provide Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of coronavirus victims as provisioned under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, and a uniform policy for issuing death certificates.

The bench said unless there was a uniform policy for issuance of any official document or death certificate stating that the cause of death was COVID, the kin of the victims would not be able to claim benefits of any compensation scheme, if given.

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Justice Shah asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Centre in the matter, whether there is any uniform policy on death certificates as there are many situations of death, where reason is not given as COVID. The bench said that State government authorities are saying that they are following ICMR guidelines.

"So you (Centre) place the ICMR guidelines before us and tell us about any uniform policy on issuance of death certificates to the COVID-19 victims", the bench added. Justice Shah pointed out that in many cases deaths are due to lung infection or heart problem but it may have happened due to COVID-19 and it is not mentioned in the death certificates.

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"People will have to run from pillar to post, if any compensation is to be given to kin of COVID-19 victims. It is not fair for the family as the reason for death is often a different one when the death has actually occurred due to COVID," the bench said.

The bench posted the matter on June 11 and asked the Centre to file its reply by then. At the outset, advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who appeared in-person, said that under section 12(iii) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, every family whose member died due to disaster is entitled for ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh.

He said that the Ministry of Home Affairs, keeping in mind section 12 (iii) of the Act has issued an order April 8, 2015, by which a revised list of norms and assistance from the State Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Response Fund was given. Bansal said that since COVID-19 has been declared as a disaster and as per the order dated April 8, 2015, every family whose member dies due to disaster is entitled for ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh.

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He said that hundreds of persons (like personnel providing services in healthcare departments, police department, municipal department) who were involved in relief operations or were associated to combat COVID-19 virus have also lost their lives and in many cases, these persons were the "sole bread earner" for the entire family.

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