West Bengal govt disburses Covid relief in record time

By Saibal Gupta

Kolkata, Jan 23 (IANS): Few days before the Supreme Court pulled up several states for discrepancies in Covid death record and low disbursement of compensation, West Bengal recorded more than 80 per cent disbursement of compensation of the 91 per cent claims received by the state.

According to available data, the state has received as many as 18,554 Covid death compensation claims, or 91 per cent of the total recorded deaths of 20,231, and honoured nearly 80 per cent of those, spending nearly Rs 75 crore from the State Disaster Response Fund, even as claims from Kolkata -- which has had the highest share of Covid deaths -- hovered around the 40 per cent-mark.

The data also shows that two other districts that recorded the highest deaths after Kolkata -- South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas -- made more than 90 per cent claims of which most have been disbursed.

According to senior officials of the state disaster management department, North 24 Parganas recorded 5,130 Covid deaths of which 4,600 families made the claims, and 4,560 families received the compensation.

On the other hand, in South 24 Parganas, 1,340 families made their claims of the total 1,435 recorded deaths, and all of them have received the compensation.

"Instructions had been given to clear all claims as early as possible. We have got a fund of Rs 100 crore from the state disaster management authority for paying compensations and, if needed, we will ask for more. Till Tuesday, we released Rs 74.4 crore as compensation," a senior official of the state disaster management department said.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court came down heavily on some states for their "insensitivity" over not taking proactive steps to compensate the Covid victims, and asked the authorities to reach out to the families without waiting for them to file claims.

The division bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Sanjeev Khanna expressed extreme displeasure at the relatively low disbursal numbers in most states. The top court also directed the state governments not to reject any claims for ex-gratia payment for Covid-19 deaths on "technical grounds".

The court had in June last year asked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to consider fixing the ex-gratia amount. The NDMA recommended payment of Rs 50,000 compensation -- to be paid from the State Disaster Relief Fund -- to the next of kin of the deceased.

The data available with the states is shocking.

After Maharashtra recorded 1,41,737 deaths, there were as many as 2,13,890 claims of which 92,275 were disbursed.

The situation in Gujarat, Telangana and Tamil Nadu is even more disturbing.

When in Gujarat the recorded number of deaths was 10,094, there were 89,633 claims of which compensation was given to 58,840 families.

Similarly, in Telangana when the number of deaths was 3,993, there were 28,969 claims of which compensation was given to 12,148 families.

In Tamil Nadu, 36,825 deaths were recorded but claims came from 57,141 families of which 41,131 were disbursed.

The court had also pointed out discrepancies in the data submitted by some states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.

In Andhra Pradesh, of the 36,205 applications for claims, the state paid only 11,464. The official death count was 14,471.

According to data submitted by Bihar, the state recorded 12,090 deaths, received 11,095 claims, and paid compensation to 9,821 people.

"We are not ready to believe that only 12,000 persons died in Bihar. What is the actual figure," the bench asked.



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