Compensation may leave states with insufficient funds: Govt to SC

The Centre’s submission came in response to a plea seeking ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of all those who succumbed to the virus.

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that more than 3.86 lakh people have died due to Covid-19 in the country, and if a compensation of Rs 4 lakh is paid to the kin of each, it “may possibly” consume the entire amount of the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), leaving the states with insufficient funds for organising a response to the pandemic, for provision of various essential medical and other supplies, or to take care of other disasters like cyclones, floods, etc.

The Centre’s statement came in response to a plea seeking ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of all those who succumbed to the virus.

In an affidavit filed in the top court, the government also said that a “broader approach, which involves health interventions, social protection, and economic recovery for the affected communities”, as followed by governments across the world, “would be a more prudent, responsible, and sustainable approach”.

The government pointed out that public health is a state subject under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution and that the combined 2021-22 funds for 12 notified disasters for SDRFs for all states is Rs 22,184 crore.

“Hence the prayer…for payment of ex-gratia to all deceased persons due to COVID-19, is beyond the fiscal affordability of the State Governments,” the government said. It added that “already the finances of State Governments and the Central Government are under severe strain, due to the reduction in tax revenues and increase in health expenses on account of the pandemic” and therefore “utilisation of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia, may have unfortunate consequences of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good”.

The government said that “while all casualties owing to Covid-10 COVID, are a matter of deep regret and sadness and a colossal loss to the family and the nation, it’s imperative to appreciate the current approach in the light of a few important considerations”.

It pointed out that the pandemic “is a disaster, unlike any other that the country (and the world) has experienced in a long time. Its extraordinary spread and impact, requires an approach different from the one that is applied to a natural disaster, which has limited and defined dimensions in terms of geography, population, and overall losses. The pandemic is still not over in the country as also the world and it is extremely difficult to predict with accuracy, it’s further trajectory, mutations and waves. It requires rapidly scaled-up health and non-health efforts for a long period of time which will cost the nation lakhs of crores. There is a need to focus simultaneously on prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and recovery, which calls for a different order of mobilization of both financial and technical resources”.

Therefore “due to its scale and impact, it would not be appropriate to apply the scheme of assistance, eligible for natural disasters, to the epidemic”, the affidavit added.

Pointing out that these deaths have affected families from all classes — the rich and poor, professionals and informal workers, and traders and farmers, the Government said it “is fully conscious of the need to provide them the necessary help and support”.

It added that “however, it is not correct to state that such support could be provided only through ex-gratia assistance for those who have died. In the current context of the pandemic, it would be a rather pedantic and narrow approach. A broader approach, which involves health interventions, social protection, and economic recovery for the affected communities, would be a more prudent, responsible, and sustainable approach. Globally, the Governments in other countries too have followed this approach, and have announced interventions that provide fiscal stimulus. The Government of India has followed a similar approach”.

The petition also sought a direction to state governments to issue any official document stating the cause of death to the family members of those who died due to Covid-19.

To this, the Centre said that “so far as the recording of Covid-19 deaths are concerned, there is a statutory mechanism in place either by way of an Act of Parliament or guidelines having the force of mandate and the law. Any breach of the guidelines mentioned hereunder would be a criminal offence as stipulated under section 188 of the IPC” and “…also amounts to contempt of court…”.

The affidavit explained that “it is mandated that any death resulting from Covid-19 shall have to be so certified i.e. as Covid death, failing which, everyone responsible [including the certifying doctor] shall be responsible for penal consequences”.

The deaths are registered as per the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, the government said, adding that while the cause of death is entered in the register, any extract of the same issued by the registrar to any person seeking information will not state the cause of death as this is prohibited by the Act.

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