The Supreme Court today said that the deadline of four weeks, as suggested by the Centre for claiming ex gratia payment from authorities on the death of kin due to COVID-19, may not be sufficient as the families of the deceased would be distressed due to the loss of family members.

A Bench of Justice M R Shah and Justice B V Nagarathna indicated that a period of 60 days would be given to all such persons who are eligible as on date to apply for the ex-gratia compensation and 90 days shall be given to the future claimants.

"It (four weeks) may not be an appropriate time period, as the family concerned may be in shock and four weeks may not be a good time. If there is a death, then the family would need time to recover from the sorrow and then file claims," the Bench observed.

The Apex Court said that the National Disaster Management Authority should be conducting the exercise of determining the extent of fake ex-gratia COVID-19 compensation claims, since it has been vested with powers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

With regard to the Centre's plea seeking sample survey for verification of fake claims, the bench said it may focus on two- three states where registered deaths and claims have a difference.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, suggested fixing a deadline of four weeks to claim the ex gratia payment from authorities on the death of kin due to COVID-19.

Mehta said it may not be desirable to continue the process of ex gratia payment without any outer limit and urged the apex court to determine a deadline before which the claimants of persons who died can approach authorities raising their claims.

With regard to the issue of fake claims, Senior Advocate R Basant, appearing for Kerala, suggested that the matter should not be entrusted to the state police and suggested that the District Legal Services Authority could be asked to do a random verification of the claims.

The Apex Court, which reserved its order, said it will consider these aspects and pass direction on March 23.

The Centre had earlier filed an application seeking setting of deadline of four weeks to claim the ex gratia payment from authorities on the death of kin due to COVID-19.

Though the fatality rate due to COVID-19 has substantially decreased, it may be desirable to direct that if any death takes place due to COVID-19 henceforth, the eligible claimant can move a competent authority within a period of four weeks from the death, the plea said.

"Modify the order dated June 30, 2021 and other subsequent orders passed by this court in the captioned matter permitting any central agency to undertake sample scrutiny to verify the claimed documents processed by respective state governments for grant of ex gratia payment and take steps thereafter in accordance with the law. Modify the order... to the extent of declaring a time limit of four weeks," the plea had said.

The Apex Court had earlier expressed concern over fake claims for getting ex gratia compensation of Rs 50,000, meant for family members of those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19, saying it had never visualised that this can be "misused" and had thought that the morality has not gone so down.

It had also directed all state governments and Union Territories to appoint a dedicated nodal officer to coordinate with the member secretary of the state legal service authority (SLSA) to facilitate the payment of ex gratia compensation.

The Apex Court, which was earlier annoyed over the non-disbursal of Rs 50,000 ex gratia to the kin/family members of those who lost their lives due to COVID-19, had pulled up the state governments.

It had said on October 4 last year that no state shall deny ex gratia of Rs 50,000 to the next of kin of the of those who died after being infected with COVID-19 solely on the grounds that the death certificate does not mention the virus as the cause of death.

The Court had also said that the ex-gratia is to be disbursed within 30 days from the date of applying to the district disaster management authority or the district administration concerned along with the proof of the death of the deceased due to coronavirus and the cause of death being certified as died due to COVID-19.

The Court had said that its directions for payment of compensation to the family members of the persons who died due to COVID-19 are very clear and there was no requirement at all of constituting the scrutiny committee to award compensation.

It had said that it was very much made clear that even in a case wherein the death certificate the cause is not shown as COVID-19 but if found the deceased was declared positive for coronavirus and has died within 30 days, automatically his or her family members are entitled to the compensation without any further conditions.

With PTI inputs