The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the chief secretaries of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh to appear before it virtually for failing to comply with the directions on paying compensation to the families of those who died due to the coronavirus disease, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna said that the chief secretaries should explain why contempt action should not be taken against them.
The order was passed on a plea related to paying compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the families of those who succumbed to Covid-19. However, on June 30, the Supreme Court had allowed the National Disaster Management Authority to decide the amount of compensation and also asked it to frame guidelines for ex-gratia within six weeks.
The Centre had told the Supreme Court on September 22 that the state governments will pay Rs 50,000 compensation to the families of Covid-19 victims. Later on December 17, the court had noted that compensation claims have not been cleared by several states and passed directions to have it done within a week.
Later in the day, the chief secretaries of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar appeared virtually before the court, Bar and Bench reported. The chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh assure the court that no eligible claimants will be deprived of compensation.
“We trust and hope that the chief secretary will stand by what he has assured to this court,” the court said in its order.
The chief secretary of Bihar could not address the court because of technical problems with the audio. However, the lawyer for the Bihar government told the bench that it will make all attempts to contact poor and illiterate persons in this regard.
The court said that in view of the “peculiarity of the state”, more efforts were required to reach out to family members of those who died due to Covid-19, according to Bar and Bench.
During Friday’s hearing, Justice Shah also said that the court was not ready to accept the Covid-19 toll presented by Bihar.
“You don’t even update data... According to you, only 12,000 have died,” the judge said. “We want real facts. In all other states the number have increased after our previous order except in Bihar.”
On Andhra Pradesh, the court noted that the state received about 36,000 claims since its December order. It said that only 31,000 of them were found to be valid but only 11,000 have been cleared.
“It appears the state is not at all serious in compliance with the orders of this court and directions issued from time to time. There is no justification for not making payment to the people. Not making payment to eligible claimants would tantamount to disobedience of our earlier order for which the Chief Secretary is liable for action under Contempt of Courts Act.” it said.
The bench said that it was thinking of directing the State Legal Services Authorities to intervene in states where the number of compensation claims are less than the number of deaths registered.
The court is also verifying the statistics given by other states.
The Supreme Court also noted that it would be difficult for children orphaned due to the coronavirus to seek compensation, and directed states to take steps to contact such children, India Today reported. The bench asked state governments to use the Bal Swaraj portal for this purpose.
India on Wednesday recorded 2,82,970 new cases of Covid-19, taking the infection count to 3,79,01,241 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The toll stood at 4,87,202 after 441 patients died due to the disease in the last 24 hours, government data showed.
However, several reports and studies have claimed that India’s toll could be higher than officially recorded.
An analysis published in Science journal on January 7 had shown that the total deaths in India due to the coronavirus disease since the pandemic began in January 2020 till July 2021 could be over 3 million, or 30 lakh. India had officially reported around 4,00,000 Covid-19 deaths during this period.
In June, an article published in The Economist on a research by Christopher Leffler of the Virginia Commonwealth University, suggested that India’s actual toll could be more than 20 lakh. India’s official toll at that time was 3.67 lakh.
A month before that, The New York Times had reported that India’s toll could be as high as 6 lakh by conservative estimates, and up to 42 lakh in the worst case scenario. At the time of publishing of the report, India’s official toll was 3.15 lakh.