The petitioner, Advocate Neel Lakhani, has filed a PIL seeking compensation for people suffered due to COVID-19. The plea highlights the grants received by the government and assistance provided through the same. It does not include any compensation for directly affected people. Hence, the petitioner has approached the Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Brief Facts of the Case
On 25.01.2020, the Union Government had issued guidelines to take appropriate measures for preventing COVID-19. The government reported the first case in February 2019. Further, it issued notice to draw money from the State Disaster Response Fund for temporary relief of the victims. However, it did not mention anything concerned with the National Disaster Response Fund.
In March 2020, the WHO, Union Government and Gujarat Government declared COVID-19 as ‘pandemic’. Meanwhile, the Union Government approached the WHO and World Bank for urgent financial assistance of at least $1 billion. It received the required assistance on 14.04.2020.
Till date, a million people have contracted the disease and thousands have died in the country. However, the government did not announce any compensation for directly affected people. Hence, the petitioner has filed the PIL seeking appropriate directions from the Court.
Contents of the Petition
The petitioner has stated statutory provisions to support his claims.
Violation of Statutory Provisions
To begin with, he has cited provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. According to Section 11, it is mandatory for the government to draw a national plan to prevent as well as mitigate the disaster. As per Section 12(iii) and (iv), every affected person must receive compensation. However, neither does a plan exists nor did the government award any compensation.
The government has received donations via the ‘PM CARES’ and ‘CM CARES’ Fund. It also received funds from WHO, World Bank and USAID. The International Monetary Fund has provided India with a special drawing right of $13 billion. The government cannot divert the amount from such funds for any other purpose. Hence, as trustees of the funds, it must utilize the amount for maximum welfare and relief of the affected people.
Further, the petitioner submits that the relief packages must not be equated with the mandatory scheme under the Disaster Management Act.
The plea also assesses the implementation of various packages. It is time-consuming and discriminatory to some extent. There has been a limited understanding among people with no clarity of processing the claims. A large amount of vulnerable and poor communities is left out of the rehabilitation process.
Violation of the Fundamental Rights
The petitioner has also contended Article 21 of the Constitution. As the issue pertains to the fundamental right, there must be a time-bound direction. Inter alia, the victims must have non-discriminatory access to effective remedies and justice. This must include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, psychological care, etc.
Contravention of Tortious Provisions
The petitioner has touched upon the provisions of tortious liabilities. The disaster amounts to indirect negligence by the state authorities. Hence, it must be vicariously liable to pay compensation to all the victims. Moreover, the ‘doctrine of parents patriae’ refers to the obligation of the state to protect the rights and privileges of its citizens.
The Preamble also enshrines the concept of a ‘welfare state’. The fundamental right to life shall be violated if a citizen dies as a result of any unnatural death. The state must concede to its responsibilities and liabilities.
Prayer for Relief
The petitioner has made prayer on the basis of facts and observations. His foremost plea is to take suo moto cognizance of the sufferings of directly affected people.
The petitioner has requested a writ to direct the government to formulate a scheme for proper utilization of the funds. The government must create a separate fund to compensate citizens affected directly. Such a fund must be subjected to separate audit on a periodical basis to prevent misuse.
The Court may appoint ombudsmen for the supervision of various scheme and packages. The ombudsmen may submit a regular report to the High Court.
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