New Delhi, June 21 : The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Central government, whether the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is headed by the Prime Minster, has taken any decision not pay Rs 4 lakh compensation to families of those who succumbed to Covid.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, whether the NDMA, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken any decision that no ex-gratia compensation should be given.
The top court was hearing a petition by advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal citing Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, which said that national authority shall recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by disaster, which shall include ex-gratia assistance.
The Centre, in an affidavit, had said under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Section 12, it is the "national authority" which is empowered to recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief, including ex-gratia assistance. This is the function entrusted to the authority by the law passed by the Parliament.
On the aspect of variance in compensation offered by various states to Covid victims, the top court emphasised, that "to avoid heartburn" among beneficiaries, the Centre should consider framing uniform compensation scheme.
Justice Shah said some scheme should be implemented and queried whether there be not any uniform guidelines (on compensation for Covid deaths), and cited the example of migrant workers.
Senior advocate S.B. Upadhyay, appearing for Kansal, argued that the government is duty bound under Section 12 of the Act to frame a scheme for providing relief to the victims. Reading the notification issued on March 14, 2020, where the government notified Covid as a natural disaster, he said it is certainly like a catastrophe.
The bench noted that no one can say it is not a disaster within the Disaster Management Act.
The top court observed that every disaster is different and there can be a small and big pandemic, or a big flood or small flood, as it insisted that standards of small pandemic cannot be applied to a big pandemic.
Insisting that the government cannot use financial constraints to evade constitutional obligations, Upadhyay replied: "All that I'm saying is there has to be a scheme." He further added, "The ex-gratia scheme has to be extended for 2021 too. The Disaster Management Act itself says so." 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.
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