Over 4.87 lakh people have died of COVID-19 in India so far (File)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday lashed out at the Andhra Pradesh and Bihar governments, and grilled others - including Kerala - over the failure of, or delay in, payment of compensation to the families of those who died of Covid.
"They (the Andhra Pradesh and Bihar governments) are not above the law!" Justice MR Shah said, as the court demanded the respective Chief Secretaries be present for the 2 pm hearing.
"It is very unfortunate that despite earlier direction to pay compensation... time and again directions are issued...Total callousness on part of Andhra Pradesh... appears state is not at all serious in (complying) with orders of this court... no justification for not making payment," the court said.
Andhra Pradesh, the court noted, had reported around 36,000 compensation applications after an earlier order, of which 31,000 were found to be correct but only 11,000 have been paid so far.
"Not making payment to eligible claimants (is) tantamount to disobedience of our earlier order, for which the Chief Secretary is liable... Let the Chief Secretary remain present virtually at 2 pm and show cause why contempt proceedings should not be initiated..." Justice Shah said.
Bihar, meanwhile, was pulled up over what the court felt were excessively low reported deaths.
"You don't even update data... According to you only 12,000 have died. We want real facts. In other states the numbers have increased after our previous order..." Justice Shah observed, adding, "Call your Chief Secretary... We are not ready to accept that only 12,000 died in Bihar."
Bihar has reported 12,145 COVID-19-related deaths so far from nearly eight lakh cases.
The top court also grilled other states over the "very serious" gap between the number of applications received and that of recorded deaths.
The court said it would be forced to enlist the aid of district-level legal services authorities to ensure proper distribution if the gap between reported deaths and applications for compensation persisted.
"Does this (the applications-payment gap) mean people are not able to access online compensation forms? Should we have a paralegal volunteer system?" Justice Sanjiv Khanna asked.
The court pointed to Gujarat, which has reported 10,174 deaths but around 91,000 claims.
Conversely, Kerala has reported over 51,000 deaths but only 27,000 applications, and Haryana told the court it had received 7,360 applications as against more than 10,000 deaths.
"How have you (Kerala) received only 27,000 applications? In other states (there have been) more applications than deaths recorded. Why is the trend opposite?" the Supreme Court asked.
"You already have particulars of deaths. Your officers should go and tell them (the families) about compensation. These people are registered. They must be paid the compensation," the court said.
The court had earlier slammed states for not properly publicising news about a portal developed for disbursal of compensation for COVID-19 deaths. It had said unless that unless publicity was given people could not know the website they had to visit to make their application.
In October the court had said no state could deny compensation and that the money should be disbursed within 30 days of the application.