A DAY after the Supreme Court lashed out at the Maharashtra government for laxity in providing ex-gratia relief to the relatives of Covid-19 victims, the state began disbursement of financial assistance of Rs 50,000 each to the families on Thursday. In all, 1,600 families were paid the ex-gratia in the evening.
This came nearly three months after the apex court on October 4 ordered the disbursal of ex-gratia compensation of Rs 50,000 each to the families of Covid-19 victims. The state will have to spend around Rs 700 crore to pay the families under the scheme.
Of the 1,41,204 deaths due to Covid-19 that had occurred till December 9, 66,000 applications from families of victims have been received on the portal — mahacovid19relief.in, created to invite such applications.
Principal Secretary (Relief and Rehabilitation) Aseem Gupta said, “It is a continuous process, the number of applications will increase gradually.”
The Indian Express, in a series of articles since November had highlighted the plight of Covid-19 widows and families of deceased patients struggling with financial constraints after losing their sole breadwinner to the virus. Taking note, petitioner Gaurav Bansal had moved SC earlier this week.
The apex court had on Wednesday pulled up the state over laxity in starting the portal, which delayed the relief distribution process. As per SC guidelines, after scrutinising documents, the compensation need to be provided within 30 days of applications being received by the state.
“Once applications are received and other documents produced as per our earlier order dated 04.10.202, there is no question of further waiting for a period of 30 days. 30 days time is the maximum time… that does not mean the government must wait till the 30 days period is over,” the SC order stated. The bench directed the state to initiate the disbursement process at the earliest without any further delays.
Gupta said, “It took time as we had to link the website directly with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) data. This will help us get all the details of the deceased through their Aadhaar card number.”
When contacted, Bansal said, “Gujarat created such a website within two days, so the state shouldn’t have taken three months to initiate the process.”
“Maharashtra has the highest number of fatalities. It needs to publicise the scheme more, especially in rural areas and provide all assistance to help the kins as per the directive of the SC,” he said.
On Thursday, after the SC order, the government published advertisements about the scheme in the local media. Officials said it also plans to put up posters in crowded places like bus stations, markets and hospitals, especially in rural areas.
Hundreds of families waiting for the ex-gratia welcomed the SC order. Heramb Kulkarni, founder of Corona Ekal Mahila Punarvasan Samiti (CEMPS), an NGO working for Covid-19 affected families, said: “Most Covid-19 widows from rural Maharashtra are illiterate… they don’t know how to fill up forms online so, we are going door-to-door to help them. This relief will help in providing temporary financial support to hundreds of families.”
However, Kulkarni also spoke about the need to increase the relief to at least to Rs 1 lakh. While Bihar has declared Rs 4 lakh as compensation, Karnataka has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh — Rs 1 lakh to be paid by the Centre and Rs 50,000 by the Centre.
“Many Covid-19 patients died due to unavailability of beds or oxygen. Now, their families are struggling to survive. The government needs to take more responsibility and increase the relief as other states have done,” said Kulkarni.
Relatives of the deceased can apply online on the web portal or at Setu Center — a common service centre in the gram panchayat.