The Supreme Court Thursday permitted the Centre to conduct an inquiry into fake claims for ex-gratia compensation meant for family members of those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19 saying, nobody can be permitted to avail the compensation by making a false claim or submitting the false certificate.
The government can verify 5 per cent of claims in four states -- Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh -- where the gap between number of claims and recorded deaths was wide, said a bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna.
"We permit the National Disaster Management Authority/Union of India, through the ministry of health and family welfare, to carry out the random scrutiny of 5 per cent of the claim applications by the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra at the first instance," the bench said.
If it is found that anybody has made a fake claim, the same shall be considered under Section 52 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and liable to be punished accordingly, the bench said.
The apex court also set a period of 60 days which 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.
"We deem it appropriate to fix the outer limit of 60 days from today to file the claims for compensation in case the death occurred due to COVID-19 prior to 20.03.2022. For future deaths, 90 days' time is provided from the date of death due to COVID-19 to file the claim for compensation.
"The earlier order to process the claims and to make the actual payment of compensation within a period of thirty days from the date of receipt of claim is ordered to be continued," the bench said.
The top court directed the states concerned to assist in carrying out the scrutiny of the claim applications.
It also directed the states to submit all the necessary particulars of the respective claims that have been attended/processed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who shall carry out the scrutiny within a period of three months from today and submit the report before this court.
"If it is found that anybody has made a fake claim, the same shall be considered under Section 52 of the Act, 2005 and liable to be punished accordingly," the bench said.
The apex court directed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Home Affairs and said all the concerned States are directed to give wide publicity to the present order through print and electronic media so that the claimants can know the time limit fixed by this Court for making claims.
Such advertisement shall be published fortnightly for a period of six weeks from Thursday, it said.
The top court agreed with the submission of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that more than nine months have passed since the first judgment and noted that by now approximately 7,38,610 claims have been received by the concerned States.
"Solicitor general is right in submitting that by now all genuine claimants must have approached the authorities by establishing their claims. He is also right in apprehending that if there is no outer time limit fixed, then the process of receiving the claims would go endless and, in that case, there is all possibility of submitting false claims.
"However, at the same time, the four weeks' time suggested by the Solicitor General is too short. The family would need some reasonable time to recover from the death and sorrow and filing the claim," it said.
Therefore, we deem it appropriate to fix the outer limit of sixty days from today to file the claims for compensation in case the death occurred due to COVID-19 prior to March 20, 2022," the bench said.
The Centre had earlier filed an application seeking a deadline of four weeks for claiming ex gratia payment from authorities on the death of kin due to COVID-19.
The 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" or 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 top court, which was earlier annoyed over the non-disbursal of the Rs 50,000 ex gratia, 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 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 top 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 where in 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.