On June 30, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Centre to frame guidelines within six weeks to provide compensation to families of individuals who succumbed to COVID-19.
The three-judge bench was headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan. The top court stated that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has a statutory obligation to frame guidelines for minimum ex-gratia assistance for COVID-19 victims.
It has rejected the central government’s argument that claimed Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 was not obligatory by holding the self section and including an ex-gratia. Nevertheless, the apex court added that it cannot direct an amount that the Centre will be paying.
According to the Supreme Court, the NDMA has failed to discharge its functions by not advocating for an ex-gratia assistance. It continued, “There is a duty cast on the national authority to prescribe minimum standards for relief. There is nothing on record that National Authority has issued any guidelines.”
The order has come in response to a petition demanding a ₹4 lakh compensation to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) along with the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).
The Centre submitted an affidavit saying that the compensation of ₹4 lakh could not be paid to such families as the state government and centre’s finances are under serious strain due to the reduction of tax revenues and increased health expenses on account of the pandemic.
The government responded, “The utilization of scarce resources for giving ex-gratia may have the unfortunate consequence of affecting the pandemic response and health expenditure in other aspects and hence cause more damage than good.” The central government has also urged courts to not cause interference in policy decisions.