Even as the third Covid-19 wave surges in India, the families of many of those who lost their lives to the virus over the last couple of years are yet to be given ex-gratia assistance by governments across the country. The Supreme Court on Wednesday chided state governments for laxity in disbursement of compensation to the families of Covid-19 victims. A two-member Bench of the court took up specific numbers with several states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab. The case of Gujarat is curious — the official death toll is 10,094 but 89,633 claims were made, of which the state paid 58,840, i.e., 48,746 more than the number of fatalities. In the case of Punjab, 6,667 payments have been made against 8,786 claims, though the official death count is 16,557. Justice Sanjeev Khanna wondered why the number of claims was low in Punjab, commenting: ‘The poorest may not even have the information.’
This was the third time in less than two months that the court pulled up the states for delay in disbursing ex-gratia assistance to the families of those who lost their lives to Covid-19. On December 6, the apex court had admonished several states for their lackadaisical approach, chiding the West Bengal counsel thus: ‘Only if we compel you to work will you work!’ On December 13, the court had censured the states for not giving adequate publicity to a website created for the purpose of relief distribution.
Over three-and-a-half months have passed since the top court approved an amount of Rs 50,000 each for the kin of Covid-19 victims. At that time, the court had directed that payments must be made within 30 days of the date of application. However, as Wednesday’s court proceedings show, the pace of disbursal of money to the affected families is slow and the process is beset with discrepancies that need to be immediately resolved. The Bench also spoke of around 10,000 children who lost both their parents, asking the states to ‘reach out’ to them. It is hoped that with recurring arm-twisting, the states would do what they should do without bidding. Unfortunately, this matter has become a case study of why judicial activism becomes a necessity in many cases.