‘Against morality’: SC orders scrutiny to track fake Covid death ex-gratia claims

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The Supreme Court on Thursday said nobody can be permitted to misuse Rs 50,000 ex-gratia compensation to next of kin of those who succumbed to Covid-19, as it allowed the Centre to conduct a random scrutiny of 5 per cent of the applications filed in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra to catch fake applicants.

A bench of Justices M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna said: “This Court passed the order directing the Union of India/NDMA/concerned states to pay ex-gratia amount keeping in mind the humanity and keeping in mind the sufferings of the family members who lost one of their family members due to Covid-19. Therefore, nobody can be permitted to misuse the same and it is also against morality and is unethical, which can never be accepted.”

The bench noted that 7,38,610 claims are received and, therefore, it may be very difficult to verify each and every claim. “We permit the NDMA/Union of India, through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to carry out the random scrutiny of 5 per cent of the claim applications by the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra at the first instance.”

It emphasised that nobody can be permitted to avail the ex-gratia compensation by making a false claim or submitting the false certificate.

The bench said state governments are directed to assist in carrying out the scrutiny of the claim applications, while asking the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to carry out the scrutiny within a period of three months and submit the report before it.

“If it is found that anybody has made a fake claim, the same shall be considered under Section 52 of the Act, 2005 (Disaster Management Act) and liable to be punished accordingly,” it added.

The bench considered Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s submissions that if there is no outer time limit fixed, then the process of receiving the claims would go endless and, in that case, there is all possibility of submitting false claims.

As he suggested four weeks’ time limit to file claims, the bench said that this is too short and the family would need some reasonable time to recover from the death and sorrow and filing the claim.

“Therefore, we deem it appropriate to fix the outer limit of sixty days from today to file the claims for compensation in case the death occurred due to Covid-19 prior to March 20, 2022. For future deaths, ninety days’ time is provided from the date of death due to Covid-19 to file the claim for compensation,” it said.

The bench also clarified that in case of extreme hardship, any claimant could not make an application within the time prescribed, it will be open for the claimant to approach the grievance redressal committee and the case should be considered on merits.

“Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Home Affairs – Union of India and all the concerned States are directed to give wide publicity to the present order through print and electronic media so that the claimants can know the time limit fixed by this Court for making claims,” it added.

The top court was hearing a plea, filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal, where it is monitoring various state governments for the distribution of Rs 50,000 fixed by the NDMA as compensation to the family members of persons who died due to Covid.

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