Explained: Centre's Affidavit In SC On Why Monetary Compensation To Families Of Those Who Died Of COVID-19 Is Not Feasible
In a 189-page affidavit, the centre explained that, unlike flood or earthquake, the COVID-19 pandemic was not a “one-time disaster”.
It said that if "the entire State Disaster Response Funds get consumed on ex-gratia compensation for COVID-19 victims, the States may not have sufficient funds for organising COVID-19 response".
The union government yesterday explained its stance to the Supreme Court (SC) for not granting monetary compensation to the families of those who died of COVID-19. The government was responding to a number of petitions in the SC demanding Rs 4 lakh compensation to the family of each person who succumbed to the novel coronavirus infection.
In a 189-page affidavit, the centre explained that, unlike flood or earthquake, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a “one-time disaster” for which victims can be compensated with just money. Since it is an ongoing pandemic which will continue to attack in waves, a “broader approach” is essential.
It is to be noted that the COVID-19 virus is constantly undergoing mutations. The COVID-19 virus is evolving fast because it has infected large number of people around the world. High levels of circulation mean higher replication, and more replication means more chances of genetic mutations.
For instance, the delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is 60 per cent more transmissible than the alpha variant and is fast becoming the dominant COVID variant globally.
In India, initially, the spike in cases in the second wave in Delhi (in February and March 2021) was attributed to the alpha variant, but a study in June pointed out that it was soon overtaken by the delta variant.
The centre noted in the affidavit: “Unlike disasters of a short and finite duration, occurring and ending quickly, COVID-19 is a global pandemic which has affected all the countries in the world. The pandemic has claimed more than 3.85 lakh lives, a number which is likely to increase further... These deaths have affected families from all classes — the rich and poor, professionals and informal workers, traders and farmers…” Therefore, it argued, that monetary relief was a “narrow and pedantic approach”.
The centre also pointed out that there was no precedent of giving ex-gratia compensation for a disease or disaster spread out over several months or years. “The pandemic started in the early months of January 2020 and the country is still battling the same with different intensity, different symptoms and different mutations, with no certainty regarding the end,” the government said.
In this case, the distribution of compensation across the country would suck precious financial resources of the centre and the states which could be better utilised to manage the pandemic in a way that minimises death and suffering in the longer run and more comprehensively.
The affidavit noted: “If the entire State Disaster Response Funds get consumed on ex-gratia compensation for COVID-19 victims, the States may not have sufficient funds for organising COVID-19 response, for provision of various essential medical and other supplies, or to take care of other disasters like cyclones, floods, etc. 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.”
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati representing the Ministry of Home Affairs also told the court that the government had mandated that deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, had to be certified as COVID-19 deaths.
The apex court had previously told the government that the death certificates of COVID-19 victims often showed the reason as lung or heart problem or something else.
“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 Centre said, adding that the only exception to the rule was when there was a clear alternative cause of death like accidental trauma or poisoning.
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