Finances overstretched, can’t pay Rs 4 lakh ex gratia for Covid deaths: Govt

1 month ago 10
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NEW DELHI: With India recording over 3.86 lakh Covid deaths, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Sunday that the central government and states, whose finances are over-stretched in fighting the pandemic on health, economic and social welfare fronts, could not afford to pay Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of each Covid-19 victim as per the Disaster Management Act.
The Centre's affidavit was filed in the SC in response to its May 24 order directing additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati to submit a response to writ petitions filed by advocates Gaurav Bansal and Reepak Kansal seeking Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of each Covid-19 victim as per Section 12 of the DM Act and as per the April 8, 2015, letter of the home ministry fixing the amount of compensation for those succumbing to events classified as disaster under the law.
The Centre said ex-gratia amounts are to be provided from State Disaster Relief Funds (SDRF), which were cumulatively allocated Rs 22,184 crore for 2021-22. "If an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh is given for every person who loses life due to Covid-19, the entire amount of SDRF may possibly be spent on this item alone, and indeed the total expenditure may go up further," it said in its 51-page affidavit accompanied by another 130 pages covering many welfare schemes and financial packages announced to provide succour to people and the stressed economic sector.
As things stand, with India recording 3,86,713 deaths due to Covid-19 as on Sunday evening, the compensation bill will add up to a little under Rs 16,000 crore. Officials said typically the payments under the DM Act were one-time compensations and not continuous payments. They also pointed to complications in cataloguing deaths post-recovery where the cause may or may not be related to the disease.
In its affidavit, the Centre said, "If the entire SDRF funds get consumed on ex-gratia for Covid-19 victims, states may not have sufficient funds for organising Covid-19 response, for provision of various essential medical and other supplies, or to take care of other disasters like cyclones, floods etc. Hence, the petitioners' prayer for payment of ex-gratia to all deceased persons due to Covid-19 is beyond the fiscal affordability of the state governments."
“Already, finances of states and the Centre are under severe strain due to the reduction in tax revenues and increase in health expenses on account of the pandemic,” it said.
“It is an unfortunate, but important fact that the resources of the governments have limits and any additional burden through ex gratia will reduce the funds available for other health and welfare schemes,” it said and requested the SC to leave it to the discretion of the Centre to determine, if at all, what should be the ex gratia amount to be paid.
The Centre said the DM Act also needed to be interpreted based upon the peculiar and unprecedented situation that the nation was faced with.

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