Can’t deprive Covid victims’ families of ex-gratia if rightful claims filed: Bombay HC

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While hearing a PIL seeking ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 for families which had lost their dear ones to Covid-19 and had applied physically or by post for compensation much before the Maharashtra government opened a web portal for the same, the Bombay High Court on Monday said the “state government must reach them as getting compensation is their right” and the authorities “cannot deprive eligible applicants of the same” on technical grounds.

After the state government lawyer sought time to take instructions pertaining to nearly 56 claims, represented by the petitioner NGO, the court accepted the same.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand S Karnik was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Prameya Welfare Foundation, seeking granting of compensation for all eligible applicants even if their claims were filed physically or by post.

Advocates Sumedha Rao and Rumana Bagdadi for the petitioner informed the bench that as per the Supreme Court’s decision, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had formulated guidelines by which dependents of Covid-19 victims would receive Rs 50, 000 ex-gratia compensation from state governments, through the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).

In September last year, the central government had told the Supreme Court that the redressal of grievances regarding certification would be decided as per guidelines issued by Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Advocate Rao told the bench that the NGO had distributed the forms in several chawls and slum areas, after which nearly 56 poor families had filed claim applications before the city Collector’s office, much before the Maharashtra government had initiated with delay an online portal for claims and payments in December last year.

Rao added that as the people who had lost their family members were very poor and had
not received the rightful compensation, and there were several technical glitches in uploading forms through the online portal, therefore their claims be granted on the basis of forms submitted by them through physical mode.

The lawyer for Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) informed the bench that it had received nearly 34,159 applications for ex-gratia compensation, out of which 16,818 have been approved so far.

Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia for the state government submitted that the process was streamlined through the online portal and the amount was directly paid to the beneficiary’s account, and therefore the petitioner NGO can help people submit their claims online.

However, the court said that the state need not deny assistance to the eligible applicants on technical grounds. CJ Datta orally told state, “The spirit of SC order is that the administration must reach families of persons who have died of Covid-19. Keep this in mind. Why should you be so technical (while deciding claims)?.”

Justice Karnik further said, “Web portal is for your convenience. Getting compensation is their right. They cannot be deprived just because they filed the claims physically.”

After Kantharia sought time to take instructions from officials concerned, the bench posted the matter for further hearing to Thursday, January 27.

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