Mumbai: As of 25 February, the official Covid death toll in Maharashtra stood at 1,43,675. However, the state has so far approved 1,54,500 applications for the Rs 50,000 ex gratia payment set aside for each of the families of Covid deceased — a figure 8 per cent higher than the official toll.
However, officials of the state’s relief and rehabilitation department — which is handling the disbursal of Covid ex gratia — play down the discrepancy. According to them, the number of applications approved for ex gratia payment is higher since the Supreme Court (SC) widened the ambit of compensation in October last year.
Even experts cautioned that this discrepancy shouldn’t be seen as an indicator of under-counting in the state’s Covid deaths.
The SC had, on 4 October 2021, approved the grant of Rs 50,000 ex gratia to the next of kin of patients who died of Covid, which was recommended by the National Disaster Management Authority.
The court expanded the ambit of compensation, stating that any death occurring within 30 days of that person testing positive for Covid, or having been clinically determined to suffer from the infection, would be eligible for the ex gratia amount, even if the death occurred outside of a healthcare facility.
It had also said that the ex gratia amount should be disbursed within 30 days of submission of application.
On 26 November 2021, Maharashtra released a government resolution (GR) accepting the SC guidelines.
The GR stated that the kin of deceased who had undergone RT-PCR tests and/or were clinically diagnosed with Covid would qualify as claimants of the ex gratia payment. Moreover, if the death occurred within 30 days of a clinical diagnosis of Covid or testing, the kin would be eligible to claim the aid.
“Since the scope of the compensation has widened, the number of applications received are more,” an official from the state’s relief and rehabilitation department, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
“We are already in the process of giving the amount and since it is a direct benefit transfer, careful scrutiny is required,” the official added.
Concerned over the low number of applications and disbursal of amounts, the apex court had earlier this month pulled up some states, including Maharashtra, which had rejected over 60,000 claim applications.
“You are not doing charity. As a welfare state, it is your duty…,” the bench had told the Maharashtra government.
State Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Waddetiwar told ThePrint that they were working towards expediting disbursals.
“It is getting delayed because the right heir to the claim has to be properly finalised before disbursing the amount. But we are working towards expediting it,” he said.
Also Read: Not 19 lakh, but 1.5 lakh children have lost parents to Covid, India strongly refutes Lancet study
Applications vs official deaths
According to the relief and rehabilitation department’s data, over 2.38 lakh applications for ex gratia payment have been received so far, of which over 2.23 lakh have been scrutinised. While 69,001 applications have been rejected, 26,373 of these applications have been sent to grievance redressal committees (GRC), where pleas of applicants will be heard individually.
According to department officials, duplication is one of the main reasons why the claims are getting rejected. Moreover, there have allegedly been instances where more than one person from a Covid victim’s family is attempting to claim ex-gratia.
“For example, there are more children in the family and all are filing applications for the death of their father. In this case, we need them to settle down on one name to avoid duplication,” an official told ThePrint.
Moreover, claims are getting rejected due to entry of wrong data, the official said, adding that, in such cases, applications have to be scrutinised again. Currently, there are over 15,000 applications under scrutiny.
If the name of the deceased is on the list prepared by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — which records Covid deaths across all states — the claim gets approved immediately. However, if the name is not on the ICMR’s list, the applicant has to produce certain documents, including the RT-PCR test from the doctor concerned, and the claim can be heard and addressed, the official added.
As of 25 February, 1,43,675 Covid deaths had occurred in the state, according to government records. Since May last year, when Maharashtra was in the grips of the second wave, the state government began “reconciliation of data” — adding data of deaths weeks after they occurred, leading to an exponential rise in the death toll. The government had claimed that those were instances of delayed reporting and not under-reporting.
So far, the state relief and rehabilitation department has earmarked over Rs 900 crore under the ex gratia scheme. Out of this, the maximum amount was given to the Pune division (Rs 254 crore), followed by the Konkan division (Rs 253 crore), department officials told ThePrint.
Wouldn’t call it under-reporting: ex-IMA Maharashtra chief
Asked if the discrepancy between approved applications for ex gratia and the state’s official toll could be due to under-reporting of Covid deaths, Dr Avinash Bhondve, former president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Maharashtra, said he would not like to call it so.
Admitting that the disbursal process needs scrutiny, he told ThePrint: “The discrepancy could be due to administrative mistakes. It could also be that the applicant’s kin died without doing an RT-PCR, but clinically the death was a Covid death, and hence doesn’t find mention in official records, or the death registry is not correct.”
Explaining this, he said some patients at the time did not undergo immediate testing and, if they died, their death certificate would clinically mention Covid, but the details of the deceased would not be in the ICMR registry since they did not undergo a Covid test. “So now, such claims would also have come in,” said Dr Bhondve.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
Also Read: Maharashtra’s contrasting Covid trends: Cases rise across the state, but decline in Mumbai