The Gujarat High Court has been moved in a PIL seeking compensation for all persons who have directly suffered on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to families of those who have succumbed to the disease.
Petitioner-Advocate Neel Lakhani has urged that owing to the Pandemic situation and the consequent lockdown, innumerable persons have lost their jobs, businesses and source of livelihood. Then, there are those who have been directly affected by the pandemic- having tested positive, in addition to the continuing financial loss, they have had to bear the costs of medicine, treatment and quarantine. Moreover, there are people who have suffered tremendous emotional loss in addition to this monetary loss, their family members having succumbed to the disease.
The PIL submits that while section 11 of the Disaster Management Act of 2005 stipulates a mandatory "National Plan" for the prevention of the disaster as well as for the mitigation of its adverse effects, no such national plan has been made available till date. Moreover, it is urged that the Act, in its section 12(iii) and 12(iv), envisages compensation to be paid mandatorily to every person affected by the disaster. It is lamented that 9,11,619 persons in the country, of which 42,808 are from Gujarat, have directly suffered on account of the disease, that 23,788 individuals have lost their lives to the pandemic at a national level, of which 2,055 were based in Gujarat, and till date, no compensation has been awarded for any person directly affected by the pandemic.
The PIL states that considerable contributions and donations have been received in cash and kind by the union and state governments under the PM CARES Fund and the various CM's Relief Fund. Besides, financial aid has been forthcoming from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which the petitioner insists has forwarded assistance to the tune of 2.9 billion dollars, and the special drawing rights to India of 13 billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The petitioner has urged that the Centre and the states, being the "trustees" of the funds so raised, must employ the same towards relief for and the welfare of persons affected on account of the pandemic. It is insisted that the donations having been made and the funds having been granted for this specific intention, the same cannot be diverted by the governments for any other purpose.
The plea avers that the rightful beneficiaries of these generous contributions may even be unaware that their government has been sent this financial aid from around the globe for their well-being and whether the state's many relief packages are even equivalent to the assistance received by it. "These victims as well as the donors and the contributors in their representative capacity are entitled for a direction from the court to the governments to deploy the funds generated for the relief and rehabilitation of the COVID victims", it is pressed.
While the PIL concedes that the governments have announced several relief packages amidst the pandemic situation, it is pointed out in the same breath that none of the measures so announced provide for compensation to the persons drastically affected by the disaster or to the family members of individuals who have lost their lives in this disaster. "None of these packages can ever be equated with the mandatory provision of framing of a scheme for compensation, as under the Disaster Management Act", it is further advanced.
The PIL prays for the court's direction to the authorities to set up a separate fund under the Disaster Management Act for the purpose of "relief, rehabilitation and reparation of victims", and the appointment of an ombudsman who may supervise the implementation of all existing governmental schemes, plans and relief packages.
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