The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave six-weeks time to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to issue fresh guidelines to decide minimum standard of relief to be granted to families of victims of COVID-19.
The court said that while it cannot direct the Centre to fix a particular amount of financial help, the government can fix the minimum standard of amount to be paid as ex-gratia to family members of those who lost their lives due to COVID-19 while keeping various aspects in mind.
The government can fix a reasonable amount while keeping in the mind the funds and resources available with the country, a special bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah said, while directing Centre and NDMA to issue new guidelines in six weeks.
It also directed the authorities to issue guidelines for simplifying the process of issuing death certificates for COVID-19 fatalities.
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The court was hearing two separate pleas filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking directions to the Centre and states to provide Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of coronavirus victims as provisioned under the Disaster Management Act.
The top court also rejected Centre's argument for reading "shall" as "may" in section 12 of the Act for grant of ex-gratia amount to victims of disaster, and said NDMA has failed to perform its statutory duties.
The Centre had told the top court that though there was no issue of "fiscal affordability", ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the families of those who have died of COVID cannot be paid keeping in mind the "rational, judicious and optimum usage of resources of the nation".
In its additional affidavit, the government has termed COVID as "once in a lifetime pandemic inflicted on the entire world" and said that various steps to strategise the nation's response to the pandemic have been taken and not just the funds of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) but also of Consolidated Fund of India are being utilised according to the advice of experts.
(With PTI inputs)
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