After claim numbers in numerous states substantially exceeded their respective governments’ official death counts, the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed the Centre to investigate ‘fake claims’ for ex-gratia designated for the families of Covid-19 victims.
It also established a ‘outside time limit’ for filing ex-gratia claims: 60 additional days for deaths occurring before March 20, 2022, and 90 days from the date of death in all other situations. It agreed with the Centre that claiming ex-gratia may become a “endless” process that could lead to fraudulent claims if there is no time restriction.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was given permission by a bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna to “carry out the random scrutiny of 5% of the claim applications by the NDMA.” the States of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra at the first instance’ to find out if any fake claims were being submitted to claim compensation.
The ruling was issued in response to the Centre’s request, which raised the issue of ‘false claims.’ Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, also requested the court to set a four-week deadline.
‘Considering the fact that more than nine months have passed since the first judgement and order, and four months have passed since the subsequent judgement and order dated 29.11.2021 passed by this Court, and by now approximately 7,38,610 claims have been received by the concerned States, the Centre is correct in submitting that by now all genuine claimants must have approached the authorities by establishing their claims,’ the bench said.
‘(Mehta) is also correct in concluding that if there is no defined outer time limit,then the process of receiving the claims would go endless and, in that case, there is all possibility of submitting false claims’.
The court, on the other hand, thought four weeks was “too short,” and that “the family would need some fair time to heal from the death and sadness, as well as making the claim.”
‘As a result, we believe it is fair to set a sixty-day deadline for filing compensation claims in the event of death caused by COVID-19 prior to March 20, 2022. For future deaths caused by COVID-19, you have ninety days from the date of death to file a claim for compensation.’
It emphasised that the previous directive to process claims and pay compensation within thirty days of receipt of the claim will remain in effect.
The court further stated that if “any claimant could not make an application within the time required due to significant hardship,” “it will be open for the claimant to approach the Grievance Redressal Committee…which shall be evaluated by the…Committee on a case-by-case basis…”
Fake claims are a serious offence under Section 52 of the National Disaster Management Act of 2005, according to the court.
The court stated that “nobody can be permitted to get ex-gratia compensation by filing a fake claim and/or submitting a false certificate,” and that “nobody can be permitted to exploit” its order providing ex-gratia compensation.
‘As a result, in the first instance, a random scrutiny of the 5% of claim applications filed in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Maharashtra shall be conducted,’ it said, allowing the NDMA/Union of India, through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to conduct the random scrutiny within three months and submit a report to it.
‘If it is discovered that someone has made a false claim, that person will be prosecuted under Section 52 of the Act, 2005, and will be penalised accordingly,’ the directive continued.
The SC had instructed the NDMA to examine into the issue of granting ex-gratia compensation to the next of kin in two cases filed by Advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal last year after hearing two petitions submitted by Advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal kin in the case of Covid deaths. Accordingly, the NDMA came up with a sum of Rs 50,000 which was accepted by the court.