Appoint dedicated nodal officers to expedite Covid ex-gratia payment to affected families: SC to states, UTs

Reiterating that no application for payment of ex-gratia for Covid-19 deaths should be rejected on technical grounds, the Supreme Court on Friday directed states and Union Territories to appoint a dedicated nodal officer to coordinate with the Member Secretary of the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) to facilitate the payment.

A bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna also directed states/UTs to furnish to the SLSA, details like name, address and death certificate within a week so that compensation due to the children, who were orphaned, can be processed.

The bench also asked them to make all efforts to pay the compensation within a maximum period of 10 days from the receipt of the claim.

During the last hearing on January 19, the bench, referring to the data uploaded on the Bal Swaraj Portal of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), had said that approximately 10,000 children had lost both the parents during the pandemic and that it will be very difficult for them to make an application for compensation.

The top court had also asked the states to share the particulars regarding the information they had uploaded on the portal regarding the status of children affected by the pandemic.

On Friday, the bench noted that: “The particulars with respect to orphans are not given” and warned the states/UTs that if the requisite information as directed is not provided to the SLSA within one week, the court will view it very seriously.

The bench also said that despite its earlier direction to state governments to provide full particulars of Covid-19 deaths registered with them and the number of persons to whom the ex-gratia payment is made, “most of the states have given only statistics and no full particulars”.

The SC said that legal services authority should endeavour to reach out to those who have yet not approached for compensation for whatever reasons.

“We also direct the concerned state governments to appoint a dedicated officer, not below the rank of deputy secretary…who shall be in constant touch with the member secretary of the state legal service authority so that he may coordinate with him and see to it that the applications are received from eligible persons”, it ordered.

The SC had earlier said that applications seeking compensation should not be rejected on technical grounds and that in case any technical glitch is found in the applications, the applicant must be given an opportunity to cure the defects as the ultimate goal of the welfare state is to provide some solace and compensation to victims.

On Friday, the court pulled up the Maharashtra government for rejecting applications seeking compensation that were submitted offline.

“No application should be rejected for any application which is submitted offline. You are not doing charity. As a welfare state it is their duty. Why are you sending people from pillar to post. Do it from the bottom of the heart,” the bench said.

The court asked the state government to review the rejected cases within one week. It directed that particulars of rejected claims along with reasons for rejection be given to the SLSA Member Secretary and to give chance to the applicants to correct any technical error so that their application can be reconsidered.

Hearing two petitions filed by Advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, the Supreme Court had asked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) last year to look into the question of providing ex-gratia compensation to the next of kin in the case of Covid deaths. Accordingly, the NDMA came up with a sum of Rs 50,000 which was accepted by the court.

On Friday, Advocate Bansal referred to some media reports which said that in Yadgir district in Karnataka, some of the cheques given to victims’ kin had bounced. The SC bench then asked the counsel for Karnataka to ensure that this does not happen

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