SC pulls up states on disbursal of COVID-19 death claims, summons AP, Bihar chief secretaries

THE Supreme Court, on Wednesday, pulled up state governments for failing to disburse claims to the next of kin of COVID-19 victims and issued a show-cause notice to the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary as to why contempt action be not initiated against him.
The Supreme Court asked the chief secretaries of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar to remain present virtually at 2 PM on Wednesday and explain why disbursals – Rs 50,000 ex gratia for COVID-19 death – have been so few in their states.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and Sanjiv Khanna said that it will pass orders at 2 PM and asked the state legal service authorities (SLSA) to reach the families who have lost their near and dear ones to COVID-19, to facilitate registration and disbursal of claims like it was done during the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.
The Court said that it rejects the COVID-19 death toll given by Bihar, and that these are not actual but government figures.
“We are not going to believe that only 12,000 people died in the state of Bihar due to Covid. We want your chief secretary to be here virtually at 2 PM”, the bench told the counsel appearing for the Bihar government.
The Court was hearing a batch of pleas by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal and intervenors, represented by advocate Sumeer Sodhi, seeking ex-gratia assistance to family members of COVID-19 victims.
On December 13 last year, the Court had slammed states for not giving wide publicity about a portal developed for disbursal of ex-gratia compensation for COVID-19 deaths. It had said that unless wide publicity is given, people will not be able to know the portal address on which they can make online applications.
The Court had noted that some states have not given wide publicity by giving full details of the portal in advertisements in newspapers, particularly in vernacular ones, and local channels.
The Court had earlier asked the Centre to gather information from states on the progress made on disbursal of ex-gratia compensation of Rs 50,000 to the kin of COVID-19 victims and pulled up the Gujarat government for issuing notification constituting a scrutiny committee, contrary to its directions.
On November 18 last year, the Supreme Court had pulled up the Gujarat government for issuing a notification that was “just contrary” to the directions given regarding ex-gratia to the next of kin of those who died due to COVID-19 and said an attempt has been made to “overreach” the directions issued by the Court.
It had said on October 4 last year that no state shall deny ex-gratia compensation of Rs 50,000 to the next of kin of the deceased due to COVID-19 solely on the ground that the death certificate does not mention the virus as the cause of death.
The Court had also said that the ex-gratia is to be disbursed within 30 days from the date of applying to the district disaster management authority or the district administration concerned along with the proof of the death of the deceased due to coronavirus and the cause of death being certified as died due to COVID-19.
It had said that its directions for payment of compensation to the family members of the persons, who died due to COVID-19, are very clear and there was no requirement at all of constituting the scrutiny committee to award compensation.
(With PTI inputs.)