Centre’s recommendation of Rs 50,000 ex-gratia payment to COVID deceased unacceptable, say kin and experts

Several of those who died in villages due to Covid-19 across the country have not even been given death certificates, making the process of compensation for poorer families almost impossible

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Ashlin Mathew

Disregarding the actual costs of Covid-19 hospitalisation, the Central government’s announcement of only Rs 50,000 as ex-gratia payment has upset several families and public health experts who have stated that the amount is too little. The Supreme Court has stated it will pass an order in the matter on October 4, 2021.

Most middle-class families, for lack of proper government facilities, had to spend upwards of Rs 10 lakh for the treatment of a single family member who had suffered from Covid-19. And many of them who had died had not been given a Covid-19 certificate either.

Several state governments, including Uttar Pradesh, had given unofficial orders that Covid-19 deaths should not be counted as deaths due to Covid-19; instead they were given certificates stating death due to cardiac arrest, hypertension, stroke, and other pneumonia. Several of those who died in villages due to Covid-19 across the country have not even been given death certificates, making the process of compensation for poorer families almost impossible.

“My family spent almost Rs 11 lakh for my wife’s treatment and she had Covid-19. But an hour before her death, we were told that she no longer has Covid-19. Her death certificate states cardiac arrest, so now it will be difficult for us to get any compensation. It is obvious that people die because of a heart attack, but she had Covid-19 and that was the reason,” said a 68-year-old man, who did not want to be identified. His wife was admitted in a hospital in Uttar Pradesh. He said they spent close to Rs 80,000 per day on medicines.

His is not a singular case. The base rates in many hospitals for Covid-19 care began at Rs 17,000 per day in the Capital and in wards with oxygen, the rates went up to Rs 45,000 per day. This did not include cost of Covid-19 tests. This was despite the Delhi government capping hospitalization rates.

In Hyderabad, 20-day Covid-19 ‘packages’ cost Rs 21 lakh, though the state health ministry had stated the cost of the package to be charged by the private hospitals cannot exceed Rs 4,000 per day in normal wards. In Bengaluru, a family got a Covid-19 estimated bill of Rs 9.09 lakh for 10 days in ICU with ventilator. In Karnataka too, the government had capped rates, but most hospitals chose to ignore it.

The Union government, passing the buck to the states, informed the Supreme Court that the families of those who die due to COVID-19 would receive Rs 50,000 ex gratia from the State Disaster Relief Funds.

In June 2021, the Supreme Court had directed the National Disaster Management Authority to frame guidelines for granting compensation to the dependents of those who died due to COVID. The country’s apex disaster management body, which is headed by the Prime Minister, drew up the guidelines on September 11 in response to the Supreme Court’s June direction.

Slamming the Centre for such callous attitude, public health expert Anant Phadke stated that the amount is too little and comes too late. He said most people lost their lives after prolonged treatment. “Health is a state subject, but Covid-19 was being managed through the National Disaster Management Act which is a Central Act. When something is done under a Central Act, the financial responsibility is also that of the Union government,” added Phadke, who is also the co-convenor of Jan Arogya Abhiyan (JAA).

The Union government cannot have a one-size fits all approach for Covid-19 death compensation, reproached KM Gopakumar, legal advisor for the Third World Network. TWN is an independent non-profit international research and advocacy organisation involved in issues relating to development and health.

He said most families have lost an earning member and when the government states it is an ex-gratia amount, it means it is a one-time payment. “This is a laughable amount and it will not work. Families will be in trouble. Livelihoods have been lost. Cash compensation alone will not suffice. Education and livelihood must be guaranteed to those who lost an earning member. Families who have lost an earning member need to be able to live a dignified life. Union government has to secure that,” said Gopakumar.

He pointed out that both rich and the poor will get the same ex-gratia amount of Rs 50,000 and that is not equitable distribution. “Several families will require a much larger compensation. Families whose earning member worked in the government may get a job, but that is not guaranteed for families whose earning member worked in private companies,” he underscored.

Two state governments – Kerala and Rajasthan – have already slammed the Union government’s attempt to wash its hands off any responsibility. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stated that a major share of the assistance has to come from the Central government. Rajasthan Education minister Govind Singh Dotasara pointed out that the Centre should give these amounts just like they do for other national calamities. Moreover, the Centre can’t order states on what they should or shouldn’t do, he asserted.

The main national Opposition party Congress has accused the Modi government of double speak and hypocrisy. The party demanded that Rs 5 lakh be given as compensation for every life lost during Covid-19 as most of it was a man-made crisis in the country. "How are they calculating Rs 50,000 is beyond our mortal imagination, we do not comprehend that, but, the reality is that this government has been dragging its feet on compensation from day one. Instead of providing for oxygen and cylinders and beds and vaccines and medicine,” said spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.

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