Gujarat ready to pay compensation to over 100,000 families for Covid deaths

Gujarat, which till last year insisted that number of Covid deaths were ten thousand, has admitted disbursing the money to over 80 thousand families and has set aside an additional Rs 585 Crore

Gujarat ready to pay compensation to over 100,000 families for Covid deaths

RK Misra

The Gujarat Government, which till January this year maintained that the state had recorded just 10,000 Covid deaths, was forced to admit in February that it had disbursed compensation for Covid deaths to 82,605 families. It conceded that it had received 1,02,000 claims and had rejected roughly 9,000 of them. The number of children orphaned by death of parents due to Covid in the state, it submitted, was 5,867.

If more proof was indeed needed to establish that the state government is in the business of hiding facts, it came in March when the state government set aside an additional Rs.585 Crores for paying compensation. Calculations suggest the state government is getting ready to eventually pay compensation to as many as 1.17 lakh families.

Opacity of information is one of the legacies of the ‘Gujarat model’ promoted by PM Narendra Modi as the state’s chief minister. The state government did everything to hide the actual number of Covid deaths, forcing next of kin of the victims to approach the Supreme Court.

When the apex court directed that a compensation of Rs.4,00,000 per head be paid, the Gujarat Government had demurred. It would exhaust the disasater relief funds, it pleaded. It finally agreed to an amount of Rs.50,000 when the court insisted on some monetary compensation. Could the state have cut down on other extravagant expenditure is a question that nobody has asked.

Covid mismanagement by the state of Gujarat is an albatross round the BJP government’s neck. Conscious that it could become an electoral issue in the assembly election, the party showed Vijay Rupani the door last year. It instead brought in Bhupendra Patel and a fresh crop of ministers to wash clean the anti-incumbency. But the same bureaucrats continue to call the shots and it remains to be seen if window dressing by the new government would yield results in the election.

“Does the health minister of the state have any idea about the problems which patients, doctors, nursing staff and other employees are facing? How many times has the concerned minister interacted with them on the spot,” had asked a high court bench comprising Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice I.J. Vora. In April last year Chief Justice Vikram Nath initiated a PIL observing that media reports indicated that the “state is heading towards a health emergency of sorts”.

Ordering the state to release actual figures, the CJ’s bench asserted, “concealment of accurate data would generate more serious problems including fear, loss of trust and panic among public at large”.

It was eventually the Supreme Court which ordered in October last, “No state government will deny benefit on the ground that the cause of death on the death certificate is not Covid-19 and the district authorities should take remedial measures to get the cause of death corrected”.

But old habits die hard and the state government set up a committee to certify the claims. Lawyer Amit Panchal challenged the order and the SC was forced to observe “an attempt to over-reach our directions” and threatening to summon the state’s chief secretary and the home secretary.

The apex court had ordered setting up district committees to address grievances of compensation seeking families. But the Gujarat government interpreted it to mean that it could scrutinize the claims at its own level. The state hastily retreated when the Supreme Court saw red.

The game governments play, even over the dead!

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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