It is an ongoing pandemic that will continue to attack in waves, and a “broader approach” is necessary, the Department of Home Affairs says in an 189-page affidavit.
The center told the Supreme Court that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a “one-time disaster”, like an earthquake or flood, where victims can only be compensated with money.
The virus is an ongoing pandemic that will continue to attack it in waves. It is necessary to take a “broader approach”. The government was responding to petitions in the Supreme Court to pay ₹4 lakh compensation to the families of each COVID-19 victim.
“Unlike disasters of short and limited duration, which occur and end quickly, COVID-19 is a global pandemic that has affected all countries in the world. The epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 3.85 thousand people, a number that is likely to increase even more … These affected Deaths to families of all classes – rich, poor, professionals, informal workers, merchants, farmers…” Ministry of Home Affairs, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhatti, in an 189-page affidavit.
Limiting the exemption to monetary rewards was a “narrow and pedantic approach.” Nor was there a precedent for granting ex gratia compensation for an illness or disaster that had spread over several months or years.
“The epidemic started in the first months of January 2020, and the country is still struggling with the same intensity, different symptoms and different spikes, with uncertainty about the end,” the government said.
The massive distribution of compensation across the country at this point will drain the precious financial resources of the Center and the States.
“If state disaster response funds are spent entirely on ex gratia compensation for COVID-19 victims, states may not have sufficient funds to organize the response to COVID-19, to provide various essential medical and other supplies, or to care for cases and financial resources,” the affidavit said. State and central governments are already under severe pressure due to reduced tax revenue and increased health expenditures due to the pandemic.”
Besides, the MHA said that granting ex gratia compensation for a single disease while denying those who account for a greater proportion of deaths would not be fair or appropriate.
The government justified this by saying: “It would create injustice and hateful discrimination between people who suffer from one disease and those who suffer from another.”
The court said its “broader approach” includes a different set of “minimum relief criteria” focused on public health interventions, social protection and economic recovery for affected communities.
“This would be a wiser, responsible and sustainable approach,” the ministry said.
She said that funds of ₹1,113.21 crore have been released to states/UTs for the management and containment of COVID-19 as well as to cover the National Health Mission in the 2019-2020 financial year. In 2020-21, ₹8,257.89 crore was issued to the US to fight the pandemic.
On the issue of compensating health workers who died in the line of duty, the center said it has provided comprehensive personal accident coverage from ₹ 50 lakh to 22.12 lakh health care workers under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package. Another ₹442.4 crore was released to pay the insurance claims of health workers.
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