Hurdles galore in Covid-19 relief execution

Hurdles galore in Covid-19 relief execution

A large number of deaths were attributed to co-morbidities rather than to the virus infection

Relatives mourns after the death of family member due to Covid-19, as coronavirus cases surge in the national capital , at LNJP Hospital ,in New Delhi, Sunday, May 9, 2021. Credit: PTI File Photo

The demand for payment of ex gratia compensation to the kin of Covid-19 victims has finally found some positive response with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) recommending Rs 50,000 to be paid to them from the state disaster relief funds.

Just as in the case of vaccinations, it needed the intervention of the Supreme Court for the Central government to take a decision on the matter. The government had cited several reasons behind not making any payment, but there are many moral and legal grounds, as pointed out by the court, to concede the demand. The court was happy with the guidelines framed by the NDMA which state that all claims must be settled within 30 days of the submission of the required documents.

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There are several challenges, including administrative difficulties, that need to be faced before the relief becomes a reality for the families of the victims. About 4.45 lakh deaths have been officially recorded till mid-September but it is widely agreed that this is an undercount. A large number of deaths may have eluded the count for various reasons. Governments have tried to keep the mortality figures low and so many deaths were not taken into account.

There have been problems with the definition too. A large number of deaths were attributed to co-morbidities rather than to the virus infection, though they may not have occurred but for the infection. There are no records of many deaths, especially of those that occurred at places other than hospitals, and proper certification with the reasons for death may not be available. Even hospital records may be patchy and inadequate in some states.

These and other similar issues will have to be addressed fairly and with sympathy. A large number of families have lost their earning members and the compensation would offer some solace, though it may be too little and too late. The decision also underlines the state’s responsibility to support victims of disasters, natural or otherwise, and would set a precedent for the future. The paperwork for this should be kept simple and the procedure should be efficient.

Legal issues that may arise should be settled quickly. There is a view that only those belonging to the poorer sections should get the compensation, but that will complicate the procedures and will be difficult to implement. The Centre contributes 75% to the disaster relief funds in most states and 90% to others. Still, the states will feel the pinch. There may be the need for other institutional mechanisms which can be readily invoked to deal with such requirements in future. People should not be forced to go to court for relief every time such a tragedy strikes.

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