16 Oct 2022 3:36 PM GMT
A Division Bench of the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Rajasthan Government the reason for not completing the process of disbursing ex gratia payments to the children who had been orphaned due to COVID-19, and the families of the victims of the pandemic virus, including those who had died due to suicide within 30 days of contracting it. Earlier this month, the apex court had pulled...
A Division Bench of the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Rajasthan Government the reason for not completing the process of disbursing ex gratia payments to the children who had been orphaned due to COVID-19, and the families of the victims of the pandemic virus, including those who had died due to suicide within 30 days of contracting it. Earlier this month, the apex court had pulled up the state Government over its "unsatisfactory" affidavit and directed them to make the payments without any delay, in compliance with the court's previous orders.
On Friday, a Bench composed of Justices M.R. Shah and Sudhanshu Dhulia received an update on the status of compliance from the state government. The representing counsel informed the Court that out of the 213 "COVID orphans" in the state whose details were uploaded on the Bal Swaraj COVID-Care portal, 191 had already received ex gratia payments –
"We have filed an affidavit. Meetings are being held at the highest. There are two issues. One issue is that of the children orphaned due to COVID. Out of 213, we have paid 191. We are also taking requisite steps with respect to the remaining 22. As far as 718 are concerned, they are general orphans...not related to COVID. Then we will have to frame a policy that all orphans will be covered by the State as parens patriae. That will require a different policy altogether. As far as the COVID orphans are concerned, out of 213, we have paid 191."
Regarding the children whose payments had not been processed yet, the counsel clarified –
"With respect to the remaining 22, we are making all efforts. Yesterday only, the Learned Chief Secretary has taken a meeting. We are trying to identify the remaining children. Some people are not traceable currently. We are trying to disburse payments to them."
The Court was also informed that the families of 19,914 victims who lost their lives to the virus, had been compensated, out of "a sanction of 20,671". Justice Shah asked how many applications were rejected. The counsel answered –
"Rejected is 1773, and we have shared it with the National Legal Services Authority. Let NALSA have the oversight powers. If they recommend that no this is wrongly rejected, we will pay. This is not adversarial at all. We want to come to help."
On being reminded by the Bench of the time-bound nature of the activity, the counsel explained –
"There are certain payments pending at the citizen level...194 are pending at the office level. We will expedite that in one week's time. Citizens when they come back with their...we again have to process...There is no pendency."
Justice Shah enquired –
"You said 757 payment pending?"
The counsel responded –
"There are various difficulties on the ground. Payment pending because of difficulties in disbursing the amount to exact persons. Sometimes identification becomes a problem, sometimes the person is not traceable. We are trying our level best."
Justice Shah pressed further –
"Once it is sanctioned, then you just have to pay, isn't it so?"
The counsel supplied –
"No, payment also requires many other formalities. It is not direct transfer also..."
Justice Shah sharply admonished –
"We have said direct transfer."
The counsel hastily added –
"Opening of bank accounts involves some formalities…"
Justice Shah said –
"You don't have to open bank accounts, you just have to transfer the money to the existing accounts."
The counsel explained –
"If they don't give details, we have to ask them to open an account and then transfer. We don't have anything against these 757 people. The state is working overnight to see to it that payments are disbursed to these people."
Unconvinced, Justice Shah indicated that they would direct the Member Secretary of the National Legal Services Authority to examine the 1,773 rejected applications. The counsel, deferring to the wisdom of the statutory body, said –
"Whichever matter he recommends, we will immediately pay. And any suggestion by him, if it expedites the process, we will do that."
Justice Dhulia further enquired –
"Also, what is citizen level?"
The counsel said –
"Citizen-level means persons who have given an application. We ask queries sometimes to such applicants."
Justice Shah cautioned –
"You decide on the basis of the applications, counsel. Our order is very clear. You don't ask unnecessary questions. They have to say only one thing. That a person has died due to COVID-19. Nothing further than that. No further enquiries."
The counsel quickly agreed to "expedite those payments".
It was alleged by another counsel that there were "various discrepancies" with respect to the number of COVID deaths due to suicide. Expressing his disbelief, the counsel said –
"As far as suicidal deaths are concerned, there are 9000 suicide deaths at district level. 9077 applications received out of which 551 pending. 8047 sanctioned. If there are applications, there are deaths. So it means, there have been 8047 deaths by suicide. How is that possible?"
The counsel vehemently argued –
"My humble submission is, let NALSA submit a report to this court. Because there are various discrepancies as far as this issue is concerned…There are other states as well where such discrepancy exists. Because this Court had directed that all the State Legal Services Authorities…An order may be issued that in case there are discrepancies, they may approach this Court. What is happening is that they are helpless."
Justice Shah instructed –
"You come with an appropriate application. We will consider."
When the counsel protested, Justice Shah promised –
"We will take up the issue with the National Legal Services Authority and the State Legal Services Authorities. I will take the issue. We will consider it."
The Court directed the state Government to furnish details regarding the rejected applications to the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority for reexamination by the Member-Secretary. The state Government was also directed to disburse the payments due without further delays. Justice Shah orally pronounced the order as follows –
"In further affidavit filed by state of Rajasthan, it is pointed out that out of 718 applications received with respect to the orphan children which are uploaded on the website, on the Bal Swaraj portal, 213 applications are with respect to the orphan children who became orphans due to COVID-19. It is pointed out that out of the 213 applications, 191 children have been paid ex gratia payments.
It is further pointed out in the affidavit that out of the total 24,421 applications received for compensation due to death because of COVID-19, 1773 applications are rejected and 757 applications are pending for payment. It is further reported that 1783 applications are pending at citizen-level. And 194 are pending at office level. It is reported that so far as the rejected applications are concerned.
It is further stated in the affidavit that so far as the suicide deaths are concerned, at district level, 9077 applications were received, out of which, 511 applications are pending, 8047 applications are sanctioned, and 479 applications rejected.
We direct the nodal agency/State of Rajasthan to furnish all full particulars of the rejected applications with respect to the deaths due to COVID-19, even the suicidal deaths caused by COVID-19. The aforesaid particulars to be furnished to the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority within a period of 2 weeks from today. On receipt, the member-Secretary of RSLSA is directed to look into all those rejected applications and take an appropriate decision in consultation with the state government/ state authorities and the concerned applicants within a period of four weeks thereafter. Whichever applications are decided in favour of the applicants, the state government is directed to make the payment within a period of two weeks thereafter without fail.
So far as the pending applications including the applications pending for payment, the state of Rajasthan is hereby directed to decide/finalise all pending applications within a period of two weeks from today and to make the payments to the applicants, considering the observations made by us in our earlier orders.
So far as the compensation to be paid to the orphan children are concerned, the state is directed to make the payment to the remaining applicants whose parents have died due to COVID-19. The payment is to be made within a period of two weeks from today.
With this, the present application stands disposed of."
The Bench was hearing a miscellaneous application in the writ petition entitled Gaurav Kumar Bansal v. Union of India. Last year, Advocate Gaurav Bansal, appearing as party-in-person, had moved the Supreme Court in public interest, praying for the payment of ex gratia monetary compensation to the families of the deceased who had lost their lives due to COVID-19. Tagging this with another similar writ petition, the court had directed ex gratia assistance to be granted "on account of loss of life" to the family members to be disbursed from the State Disaster Response Funds.
Gaurav Kumar Bansal v. Union of India & Ors. [MA No. 1417/2022 in WP (C) No. 539/2021]
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