Centre must compensate kin of all medical professionals who lost life to COVID-19 as promised

The Centre had promised to grant Rs 50 lakh each to the kin of doctors who lost their lives fighting COVID-19 under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package

Representative image
Representative image

Dr Arun Mitra

It is to quite disappointing that only about 23.8 per cent families of the doctors who lost their lives fighting COVID-19 received the insurance amount of Rs 50 lakh announced by the Prime Minister under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), as on September 1, 2022. This is as per the information received by Dr Babu KV, an ophthalmologist from Kannur, Kerala on 26 September 2022 from The New India Assurance Company Ltd. in response to an RTI filed by him.

As per the figures furnished by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the total number of beneficiaries under PMGKP who died of COVID-19 between 30 March 2020 and 30 September 2022 stood 1988 and the amount they are entitled to comes to Rs 994 crore. But as on September 1, 2022, only 428 beneficiaries had got the compensation, which amounts to Rs 214 crore.

According to Dr Jayesh Lele, honorary secretary general of Indian Medical Association, more than 1800 doctors across the country had succumbed to COVID-19. During the first wave, 757 and during the second wave, 839 doctors lost their lives. The rest 204 died later.

While the families of all 29 COVID-19 martyr doctors from Kerala received compensation, the kin of just 27 out of 150 Delhi-based doctors were compensated.

Who all is entitled?

A notice was issued on 31 March 2020 by the commissioner of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation to Dr Bhaskar Surgade to keep his dispensary open for the treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19 during the period of the lockdown. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the disease on 10 June 2020.

Kiran Bhaskar Surgade, the spouse of Dr Bhaskar Surgade then filed a petition before the Bombay High Court for compensation. The court rejected the petition for compensation to the family of Dr Surgade on the ground that his services were not requisitioned for COVID-19 duties and that the notice that was issued on 31 March 2020 cannot be construed as a notice requisitioning his services for the specific purpose of treating COVID-19 patients. It said the notice also did not mandate that the dispensary was required to be kept open for COVID-19 patients.

An appeal was then filed before the Supreme Court of India through a Special Leave Petition.

As per the apex court, prima facie, the object of the compensation scheme was to provide a measure of social security to the health professionals because of the exposure to the COVID-19 virus which they were liable to suffer in the course of the discharge of their medical duties, both in public and private institutions. The apex court also observed that the matter raises an issue of nation-wide concern.

The whole issue has raised a serious question as to whether only those doctors and other healthcare workers of a specially requisitioned institution for the purpose of giving services to the COVID-19 affected patients are liable to get the compensation in question, or any healthcare worker who dedicated her/his life during the extreme health crisis.

Under any health emergency it is the duty of the medical personnel to discharge their duty with dedication to the society. We have seen that most of the healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, ASHA workers, Aanganwadi workers, from both the public and private sector, were in the forefront to fight the disease through public education and active treatment. This they did even at the cost of verbal or physical humiliation at some places.

In case of an unfortunate mishap, the family comes to a crossroad. There are many instances where the deceased person was the sole bread-earner. It is, therefore, important that all such health workers, whether requisitioned for the special purpose or not, should be given insurance benefit without delay because they laid down their life serving the sick.

Thousands of workers who were hired for short term during the COVID-19 pandemic are now left in the lurch. They need to be looked after. ASHA workers and Aanganwadi workers should be at least given recognition as regular workers.

It may be recalled that the pandemic-induced lockdown had forced lakhs of people to migrate because there were no jobs or means of livelihood left in the big cites. The lockdown by PM Narendra Modi was imposed without any notice and later the government did not pay heed to the demand for compensation to the poor families. The demand by trade unions to pay Rs 7500 to the kin of the workers was completely ignored. At a later stage, only 5 kg of grain and 1 kg of daal was offered as help.

This is in contrast to many governments around the world who paid special allowances to the people during the pandemic because jobs and means of livelihood were gravely affected.

The Indian State must display a sympathetic attitude towards the COVID-19 warriors. Gimmicks like showering of flowers or effusive words of praise do not mean anything if there is no practical help.

All the families of medical professionals who lost their loved ones must be given due monetary compensation and all other support they need.

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