The Centre on Saturday told the Supreme Court that deaths of all citizens diagnosed with the coronavirus infection will be classified as Covid-19 deaths, irrespective of the comorbidities, reported Bar and Bench.

In an affidavit, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that exceptions can be made in the death certificates only if there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be attributed to the infection. The affidavit added that action will be taken against doctors not complying with the rule, reported NDTV.

So far, only deaths of coronavirus patients that took place in hospitals were certified as Covid-19 fatalities. The Centre’s submission came amid reports suggesting underreporting of Covid-19 deaths in many states.

Data from Bihar’s Civil Registration System has shown that there were about 82,500 more deaths in the state between January and May, as compared to the same period in 2019. These deaths were recorded amid the second wave of coronavirus. However, Bihar’s official Covid-19 toll for the January-May period is a much lower at 7,717, casting doubts on the state’s data on coronavirus fatalities.

In Tamil Nadu, non-governmental organisation Arappor Iyakkam in Chennai has alleged discrepancies in the state government’s figures on Covid-19 deaths between April and May.

On May 14, Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar had revealed the extent of underreporting of Covid-19 deaths by the state government amid the second wave of the pandemic. The newspaper found that the state had issued 1.23 lakh death certificates between March 1 and May 10, but registered only 4,218 Covid deaths.

Last week, All India Institute of Medical Sciences chief Randeep Guleria had also flagged the possibility of “misclassification” of Covid-19 related death and had advised state governments and hospitals to conduct death audits.

The Centre’s affidavit was in response to a plea seeking directions to the central and state governments to provide a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the family members of the citizens who died of side effects of the infection or post-Covid complications, including mucormycosis, or “black fungus”.

The petitioners, advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, had referred to Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, which says that national authority shall recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by a disaster, including ex-gratia assistance.

On the matter of compensation to all citizens who have died due to Covid-19, the ministry said that doing so was beyond the fiscal affordability of both central and state governments, reported Live Law. It said that the finances of Union and state governments were under heavy strain because of a fall in tax revenues and an increase in health expenses due to the pandemic.

“It is an unfortunate but important fact that the resources of the governments have limits and any additional burden through ex-gratia will reduce the funds available for other health and welfare schemes.” the ministry said.

The ministry noted that any compensation under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to 12 notified disasters is given through the State Disaster Response Fund. It submitted before the court that if an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh is provided to every person who died of the infection, the entire amount in the fund may possibly be spent for this purpose alone.

The ministry also argued that the matter of providing financial assistance should be dealt by the national authority under the Disaster Management Act. It said that any attempt to second guess this may lead to “unintended and unfortunate” constitutional and administrative ramifications.

The affidavit said that it was wrong to say that help can only be provided through compensation as that would be a “pedantic and narrow approach”. It said that social protection, health interventions, and economic recovery for the affected communities will be a more responsible approach.

The ministry added that there was no precedent of providing ex-gratia for an ongoing disease or for any disaster event of a long duration that extends for several months or years.