After opposing petitions seeking ex-gratia payment to families of deceased COVID patients, Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it is considering formulation of a similar financial compensation scheme. The top court has asked the Centre to ensure that deaths of all COVID patients are classified as COVID deaths and all death certificates already issued should reflect that to ensure no bereaved family is denied the benefit of ex-gratia payment.
Reserving its order on a batch of petitions seeking Rs. 4 lakh as ex-gratia payment to family members of each deceased COVID patient, the top court asked the Centre to provide details of amount of ex-gratia payments given by states to the next of kin of deceased COVID patients.
Centre had earlier informed the apex court that there’s already a statutory mechanism in place to report COVID deaths, with the guidelines to report COVID deaths having the force of law and the backing of a top court order from 2020.
Centre maintained that failure to report COVID death will make everyone responsible, including certifying doctor, for penal consequences under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Contempt of Court Act.
The affidavit told the court that the guidelines issued by the Office of Registrar General of India (ORGI) are being followed to report cause of deaths, to ensure correct classification of all COVID deaths.
All deaths with COVID diagnosis, irrespective of co-morbidities, will have to be classified as deaths due to COVID. Exceptions to the rule could remain where there is a clear alternative cause of death; like accidental trauma, poisoning or acute myocardial infarction.
In May 2021, ORGI issued guidelines to register death of a person within 21 days. Centre submitted before the court that ‘Death Audit’ is an administrative exercise being undertaken to identify gaps that contribute to patient deaths, and intends to improve the quality of healthcare services by preventing or minimizing future deaths.
With an annual allocation of Rs. 22,184 crores for ex-gratia disaster relief for all states and over 3.85 lakh deaths due to the pandemic, Centre had earlier claimed that giving Rs. 4 lakh to each family with deceased COVID patients would exhaust these funds meant for health and welfare schemes. Centre’s affidavit pointed out that the pandemic is still continuing with more deaths taking place everyday, hence schemes for financial assistance during natural disasters can’t be replicated during a pandemic.
Petitions in the apex court have sought ex-gratia compensation of Rs. 4 lakh to the families of deceased COVID patients, including those who died due to post-COVID complications including Mucormycosis. Citing Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act which allows for ex-gratia relief payment to disaster victims, the petitions want a uniform compensation policy in view of varying amounts being given by different states.