Claims for COVID ex-gratia exceeding toll, cleared 16k requests: Gujarat to SC
Ahmedabad: In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on Monday, Gujarat government stated that it received 22,557 applications for Covid-19 ex-gratia compensation and sanctioned payment in 16,175 cases, far higher than the official virus death tally in the state that stood at 10,099.The affidavit was filed by Gujarat commissioner of relief and ex-officio additional secretary at...
Ahmedabad: In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on Monday, Gujarat government stated that it received 22,557 applications for Covid-19 ex-gratia compensation and sanctioned payment in 16,175 cases, far higher than the official virus death tally in the state that stood at 10,099.
The affidavit was filed by Gujarat commissioner of relief and ex-officio additional secretary at revenue department, Ardra Agarwal, on December 9.
After the Supreme Court's order on ex-gratia payment on December 6, the affidavit stated that 22,557 applications were received for ex gratia payment as of December 9, out of which sanction order was passed for 16,175. Out of the sanctioned claims for payment, Rs 14,215 were paid Rs 50,000 via Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).
The development took place during a hearing in the Supreme Court, where Gujarat and Maharashtra government were directed by the court to expedite the process of paying compensation. The court observed the anguish of the common man who was made to wait to receive an amount of Rs 50,000 as a one-time solatium. On October 4, the SC had ordered that the money be given to the beneficiaries after due publicity.
The Gujarat government had also released a press note on December 3 "containing all relevant information pertaining to the ex gratia compensation scheme" in order to create awareness about the relief available to the public, said the affidavit. The state had also ordered the director of All India Radio, Ahmedabad for "transmission of a 60-second radio message" on the compensation scheme, in various radio sectors across the state.
The Gujarat government was criticized by the Supreme Court earlier for constituting Covid-19 Death Ascertaining Committee, which didn't consider deaths that occurred 30 days from the day of testing, and in many death certificates, the reason of death wasn't mentioned as Covid-19 even if the if the patient had co-morbid conditions.
According to experts, the modified and broadened eligibility criteria might have resulted in the coming of more compensation applications than deaths counted previously, as many who were excluded by the conservative norms in the earlier guidelines became eligible to claim payment under the ex-gratia guidelines, reports the Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra which had reported around 1,40,000 deaths filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that it managed to process claims of only 8,000 people.
The court, however, observed that the state did not sufficiently publicise the online claims portal even though the latter stated that the said that the number of claims had increased from 12,718 on December 4 to 22,557 now.
A bench of a bench of justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna noted, "The common man is waiting and struggling to get ₹50,000. How will you inform them? We find that all the publicity is only on paper. Advertisements have to be issued in all newspapers giving the address of the online portal. The same has to be also shown on local channels, Doordarshan, and local newspapers."
The court ordered the Maharashtra government to process the nearly 84,000 claims received within a week, and asked Gujarat government to provide sufficient publicity about the ex-gratia scheme in local channels and newspapers.
The counsel for Maharashtra government, Sachin Patil, informed the court that the state was targeting to process claims of almost 50,000 families within the month end, adding that they have done the publicity in 121 newspapers.
Upon SC's direction, the Gujarat government had launched a portal on which relatives of Covid-19 victims can file online applications, as per a media report in the Times of India. The affidavit stated that, "The link to the online portal has been provided on multiple government websites of all district collectorates, as well as VCEs (Village Computer Entrepreneurs) of e-gram centres at the village level."
As per the affidavit filed by the Union of India dated November 27, the Gujarat government had informed the Supreme Court that it had recorded 10,092 deaths as of November 25. It had also added a disclaimer, stating, "This number may change as in 3rd September guideline (by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) definition of death due to COVID is broadened.
After receiving MOHFW guidelines and continuous rebukes from the Supreme Court, a resolution was released by the Gujarat health department dated November 29, classifying the eligibility for the ex gratia payment as well as giving the responsibility to authorities for documentary proof work, as per the guidelines of the top court.
The five mandatory conditions needed to be eligible for the ex gratia includes either a positive diagnostic test (RT-PCR/rapid antigen test/any other molecular test) or clinical determination "through investigations in a hospital/in-patient facility by a treating physician while admitted in the hospital/in-patient facility".
A death can be treated as "deaths due to Covid-19" if it occurred within 30 days from the date of testing or from the date of being clinically determined as Covid even if the death took place outside the hospital/in-patient facility.
If a death took place beyond the period of 30 days, then the patient must have continued as a hospital/in-patient facility admission in order to be considered as a Covid death. Those who died by suicide within 30 days from being diagnosed as Covid positive are entitled to avail the ex gratia, for the kin of those deceased Covid patients where Medical Certification of Cause of Death (MCCD) was issued.
If anyone has any grievance with the cause of death specified in the MCCD, the family members need to go to the authority that issued the MCCD for modification and if still aggrieved, then they can raise their grievance before the Grievance Redressal Committee constituted at the district and municipal corporation level.
If any of the above five conditions of the eligibility criteria is fulfilled by the family member, then they shall be entitled to ex gratia "on the production of requisite documents".
The affidavit was fled in the Supreme Court in to a litigation filed by Gaurav Bansal on disbursal of Rs 50,000 as compensation in Covid death cases.
According to a media report in The Indian Express, the Gujarat health minister Rushikesh Patel said that the state was following the guidelines of the Supreme Court to deal with claims of ex-gratia and stated that, "for now there is no plan to update the state's official death figures."
Patel said, "What has been declared by the state is the official Covid-19 death figures. There are some who died due to some other diseases and some others who died in private hospitals or at home. There were also some patients who recovered from the hospital but later died at home. That doesn't mean they died of Covid. The Supreme Court has said that anyone diagnosed with Covid and regardless of where they died, have to be paid compensation… we are doing that," adding that it would mean cases confirmed after RT-PCR, RAT or HRCT tests.
He said, "For a claimant, they will think it is death due to Covid but it may not be so… For now, there is no plan to update the official figures."
The case is next slated to be heard on Wednesday, reports TOI.
The Medical Dialogues team had earlier reported the Gujarat government was slammed by the Supreme Court on its Covid ex gratia disbursal process, for deviating from its approved process and instead constituting a scrutiny committee for the disbursal of ex-gratia compensation to families of those who succumbed to Covid-19.
Revu is currently pursuing her masters from University of Hyderabad. With a background in journalism, she joined Medical Dialogues in 2021.