A file photo of a relative mourning the death of a dear one due to COVID-19.
A file photo of a relative mourning the death of a dear one due to COVID-19.
AP Photo

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Modi government is bound by law to compensate the families of those who died in the Coronavirus outbreaks and asked the Modi-headed National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to frame fresh guidelines within six weeks for the minimum payouts to them.

A special bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Mukesh R Shah said the court cannot direct the Centre to fix a particular amount of financial help, but the government can fix the minimum standard of amount to be paid as ex-gratia to the family members while keeping various aspects in mind.

It also directed the authorities to issue appropriate guidelines for simplification of the process of issuance of death certificates for Covid fatalities. The top court asked the Centre to consider formulating an insurance scheme for cremation workers as proposed by the Finance Commission.

The bench also rejected the argument of the Centre for reading 'shall' as 'may' in section 12 of the Disaster Management Act for grant of ex-gratia amount to victims of disaster, and said that the "NDMA has failed to perform its statutory duties." The verdict came on a batch of pleas seeking ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the dependents of those who died of Covid and formulation of uniform guidelines for issuance of death certificates for Covid fatalities.

The top court's verdict adds to the mounting criticism on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government's handling of the pandemic, with India's death toll on course to exceed four lakh this week.

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