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Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022

Covid deaths: Centre okays ex-gratia, state funds to cover it

At least two states — Kerala and Rajasthan — have responded to the guidelines, saying the Centre cannot leave the payment of ex-gratia entirely to states.

As accurate death statistics by causes is hard to come by — around 70 per cent of deaths take place at homes even in normal times — attempts have been made to estimate the Covid deaths by identifying “excess” deaths over what would have been the number otherwise.

The National Disaster Management (NDMA) has recommended an ex-gratia amount of Rs 50,000 for loss of life due to Covid-19 — an amount that will be provided by states from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and distributed by the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) or the district administrations.

In guidelines brought out to enable this, the Authority said that the payment, to be paid to the next of kin of the deceased, shall be subject to the cause of death being certified as Covid-19 as per guidelines brought out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on September 3.

The payments, NDMA added, “will continue to be provided for deaths that may occur in the future phases of the Covid-19 pandemic as well, or until further notification”.

At least two states have responded to the guidelines, saying the Centre cannot leave the payment of ex-gratia entirely to states.

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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that while states cannot entirely distance themselves from providing the assistance, a major share of the same has to come from the Central government, which cannot say it has no role to play in paying the ex-gratia amount.

In Rajasthan, Congress state president and Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasara told The Indian Express, “You can’t impose (the ex-gratia payment) on states… tell them what to do or what not to do. It should be done by the Centre through their relief fund. No doubt about it. You give funds for hailstorm, floods, etc., so you should now add Covid too. It’s not that only one state has been affected by it, it’s a pandemic. It should be covered under the National Disaster Relief Fund.”

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who also holds the Finance portfolio, could not be reached for comments.

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The NDMA — the country’s apex disaster management body that’s headed by the Prime Minister — drew up the guidelines on September 11 in response to a direction by the Supreme Court on June 30. On Wednesday, the government submitted the NDMA guidelines to the top court.

The court while hearing petitions by two lawyers — Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal — had asked the NDMA to come up with guidelines for payment of ex-gratia. It, however, left “what reasonable amount to be offered towards ex gratia assistance…to the wisdom of National Authority which” the court said “may consider determining the amount taking into consideration” factors “such as, requirement/availability of the fund under the NDRF/SDRF for other reliefs and the priorities determined by the National Authority/Union Government and the fund required for other minimum standards of relief and fund required for prevention, preparedness, mitigation and recovery and other reliefs to carry out the obligation under Disaster Management Act 2005”.

Drawing up the guidelines, the NDMA said, “Covid-19 is a disaster that has not abated. The total number of deaths continues to rise. Therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the total financial burden emanating from ex-gratia assistance. (Express File Photo)
Explained

Definition holds key

While official figures peg the Covid death count at 4,45,768, claims for compensation will depend on what constitutes a ‘Covid death’. On September 3, the Centre had laid down guidelines specifying under what conditions official documents can be issued with ‘Death due to Covid-19’ as cause of death.

Drawing up the guidelines, the NDMA said, “Covid-19 is a disaster that has not abated. The total number of deaths continues to rise. There is uncertainty about new variants of the virus and the likely future waves. Therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the total financial burden emanating from ex-gratia assistance. Financial prudence demands that we plan in a manner that assistance can be provided to large number of people should the number of deaths rise.”

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It added that “state governments have already been incurring large expenditure from SDRF on various aspects of Covid-19 prevention, management and response. In addition, central government from the national budget has announced several measures to prevent Covid-19 (nationwide vaccination drive) as well as to provide relief assistance to those affected by Covid-19 (for example, support provided to the orphaned children and PM Garib Kalyan Yojana Package). State governments have also announced welfare measures from the state budgets. So, in effect, some financial and material assistance has already been provided to different forms in some of the most valuable sections”.

Deciding the quantum of payment, the Authority took into account other disasters that are likely to happen and the need to provide assistance in those cases too. “While Covid-19 is an unprecedented disaster, other natural disasters that occur more frequently have not abated. It is important that sufficient funds are available to provide a timely and effective response to other disasters as well.”

A relative of a Covid-19 victim at a crematorium in New Delhi. (Express File Photo)

The apex court had also asked the Centre to come up with simplified guidelines for issuing official documents to family members of Covid-19 victims, which would help them pursue correction of papers issued by the municipal or other authorities in connection with the death.

In response, the Ministry and ICMR jointly brought out the guidelines, according to which those cases that are diagnosed through an RT-PCR/ Molecular Test/ Rapid Antigen Test, or those that have been clinically determined in a hospital or an in-patient facility by a physician while one is admitted there, will be recognised as Covid deaths.

It also decided to treat deaths happening within 30 days from the date of testing or from the date of being clinically determined as a Covid-19 case as death due to Covid-19, even if it takes place outside the hospital/ in-patient facility.

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However, deaths occurring due to poisoning, suicide, homicide, accidents etc will not be treated as Covid-19 deaths even if the virus infection is an accompanying condition, said the guidelines.

While considering these guidelines, the Supreme Court asked the government to reconsider the guideline that said that in case of a Covid patient committing suicide, it won’t be treated as a Covid death.

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According to the health ministry, the cumulative death count currently stands at 4,45,768.

Inputs from ENS, Jaipur; PTI

First published on: 23-09-2021 at 04:00:40 am
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