Friday, August 6, 2021
Editorial

Statutory duty

Thankfully, we aren’t as isolated as we once were so today we know what’s happening across the globe ~ although we may not necessarily understand the whys often. Thanks to technology and the reach and resilience of the Fourth Estate and other fast-paced media that have become crucial in our lives, as a means of creating awareness and educating us. Hopefully, our exposure to the world around us on pertinent issues has also opened the eyes of our minds and hearts. So, it is from this prism we must not only keep pace but also ensure that we are benefitted by constitutional provisions. The Supreme Court underscored one such provision on June 30 when it stated that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is statutorily mandated to provide minimum standards of relief, which should include ex-gratia for those who have succumbed to COVID. A Supreme Court Bench reportedly said by not providing ex-gratia amount, the NDMA has failed in discharging its statutory duty. It said: “There is a duty cast on the national authority to prescribe minimum standards of relief. There is nothing on record that the National Authority has issued any guidelines for minimum standards of relief for COVID victims, which shall include ex-gratia assistance for COVID”. Furthermore, the Bench directed the NDMA to form guidelines for ex-gratia compensation for the family members of persons who died due to COVID as per the minimum standards of relief emphasizing that the guidelines should be put in place within six weeks. However it was categorical that it is not proper for the Court to direct a particular amount of compensation hence said: “What reasonable amount to be provided is left to the wisdom of national authority.” Reportedly, the Union Government argued that Section 12 of the NDM Act was not a mandatory provision but the Court wasn’t having any of it on the ground that the word used in Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act is as “shall” and is a mandatory one, adding to construe the word “shall” as “may” will defeat the purpose of the provision. Moreover, the Bench added the death certificate issued for COVID patients should have simple guidelines, including the date and cause of death. It was specific that: “There will be also facility for correcting the cause of death if family is not satisfied”. This judgment came on PILs filed by two Advocates seeking Court’s intervention for payment of Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia amount to COVID victims’ families. The Court’s judgment also held that the NDMA failed to discharge its functions by not recommending ex-gratia assistance. This judgment is pertinent for the entire country, so we too are entitled to (1) “minimum standards of relief, which should include ex-gratia for those who have succumbed to COVID”, (2) ex-gratia compensation for the family members of persons who died due to COVID, and (3) death certificates issued for COVID patients with simple guidelines, including the date and cause of death and a “facility for correcting the cause of death if family is not satisfied”. Now, our State Government also needs to implement the Court’s judgment in letter and spirit. It is equally the responsibility of aware citizens, including political parties, NGOs and our legal fraternity to ensure that our Government implements the same in letter and in spirit and that we do not get duped by our Government’s excuses and justifications for its “inability” and “constraints” to implement this judgment. In fact, within six weeks our Government should announce the stipulations of the judgment after setting-up the necessary logistical support-system of implementation. Keep in mind that as of June 30, Nagaland has suffered the loss of 495 precious lives, whose families direly need the ex-gratia relief mandated in the Disaster Management Act. Inversely, this judgment has great potentials to fight stigmatization, which prevents people from seeking medical treatment ~ for now, in the case of COVID-related deaths, which cannot be concealed anyway, people would see the benefits of reporting COVID cases. It’s not just a monetary issue but even if it is, why not? After all, everybody is suffering huge financial burdens and those who don’t need the relief, or are reluctant to avail it, can always donate to those who need ~ and there are plenty of them in our State too. In fact, if our legal fraternity translates the Act’s legalese into simple lay-man’s language, it would hugely benefit our people. Only informed citizenry can make democracy and development happen.

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