The Allahabad High Court recently observed that once a person who is admitted to a hospital due to Covid-19 dies, the resulting cause being heart failure or dysfunction of any other organ leading to death is immaterial and would be treated as Covid-19 death.

"Once the admission of deceased persons was on account of Covid-19, the resulting cause being heart failure or dysfunction of any other organ leading to death is immaterial and would nevertheless be treated as Covid-19 death.", the Bench of Justice Attau Rahman Masoodi and Justice Vikram D. Chauhan noted.

The Court stated this while directing the state authorities to release the ex-gratia payment to the dependents of Covid-19 victims within a period of one month.

While arriving at its conclusion, the Court observed that scientific understanding alone is not decisive to implement the policy of the State which by its very nature is a mix of multiple variables. The State is not to be guided by the laboratory results or publication in journals alone but what is relevant is the impact of a disaster as it may be understood in common parlance not opposed to scientific principles altogether. Scientific temper is itself a matter of concern and debatable, the Court observed.

"For example the elephant's head on the holy mankind body of 'deity' of Lord Ganesha may or may not be opposed to scientific beliefs but it accompanies our mystical belief from ages and likewise many more. The scientific discoveries and inventions promote scientific temper but failure of science is bound to leave a grey area for our personal faith, traditional usages, beliefs and superstitions until modern science or spiritual attainments unfold the absolute truth", the Court observed while clarifying that the example it is not meant to hurt anyone's sentiments but is illustrative of Court's understanding.

"Embracing personal faith, usages, belief and superstitions besides scientific temperament is the beauty of Article 21 of the Constitution of India within which the horizons of our freedom grow for an inclusive dignified existence. This, however, does not suggest that the State has a religion as opposed to democracy that guarantees the rule of law to achieve the object of equality amongst the citizens", the Court held.

The Court was adjudicating upon a bunch of writ petitions questioning the legality of Clause 12 of the Government Order dated 1st June, 2021. By means of the impugned government order, the State of Uttar Pradesh had raised the amount of ex-gratia payment to the dependants of a deceased employee dying on election duty due to COVID-19 from Rs.15 lacs to Rs.30 lacs subject to the fulfilment of conditions in Clause-12.

Paragraph 12 of the impugned Government Order lays down three parameters for entitlement of ex-gratia compensation. Firstly, COVID-19 deaths which occur within 30 days of the election duty would entitle a claim. Secondly, the test reports Antigen/RT PCR positive, blood report or CT Scan would be a sufficient proof to prove the death having occurred on account of COVID-19 and thirdly, an asymptomatic case meeting with the death on account of COVID-19 within 30 days of election duty was also covered under the scheme.

In this background, three type of cases had emerged before the High Court. In first category, the asymptomatic deaths having occurred within 30 days from the date of election duty on account of COVID-19 and in the second category, where symptoms were detected within a gap of 30 days from the date of election duty but the actual death occurred beyond 30 days from the date of election duty.

Thirdly, where symptoms were detected beyond 30 days of election duty and death occurred within 30 days of detection of symptoms or later.

The case put-forth by the State was that the first category cases were not entitled to the ex-gratia payment as there is no proof of a deceased having contracting COVID-19 while on election duty. Moreover, to deny the claim of second and third category, it was submitted that any death that occurred beyond a period of 30 days from the date of election duty is not relatable to the election duty, hence the claim was liable to be rejected.

Senior Advocate Ashok Khare appeared for the petitioners whereas CSC Tarun Agarwal appeared for the State.

The Court observed that "In the case at hand, all these claims where the persons sent on election duty died of COVID-19, it necessarily must be understood that all such persons for the purpose of care, treatment and protection of life remained at the mercy of the State. The wisdom of the policy devised by the State lies in meeting the emerging situation for the dependants of a COVID-19 victim, therefore, equal treatment of all is bound to be achieved by adopting a pragmatic approach."

The Court observed that the bar of 30 days period in the cases where infection was detected within 30 days of election duty but death occurred beyond the same is not attributable to any negligence on the part of victim that would defeat the claim.

"…all the detected cases within 30 days of election duty cannot be segregated from those where the infection despite remaining undetected resulted into the death of a victim due to COVID-19 within the period prescribed i.e. 30 days.", the Court opined.

The argument that medical reports mentioning cardiac failure or otherwise may not be attributed to Covid-19, did not impress the Court as the Court noted that Covid-19 is an infection that may result to the mortality of a person affecting any organ be it lungs or heart etc.

Therefore the Court directed the state to release the ex-gratia payment to the dependents entitled thereto within a period of one month failing which the claims so allowed shall be made good inclusive of simple interest @ 9% p.m. from the date of judgement upto the date of actual payment.

Cause Title- Kusum Lata Yadav v. State of UP & Ors.

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