The Governments can impose restrictions or have a complete Lockdown invoking its powers under Disaster Management Act but cannot refuse to perform its duty of extending relief to the citizens flowing from the same law. We are supposed to be in a Welfare State and the common man is at its center.
Overruling the stand of Central Government, Supreme Court directed it to formulate a policy for grant of Ex-gratia Financial Assistance on account of loss of life during COVID Pandemic. This reiterated the concept of rule of law in the country. Supreme Court underlined the need for a National Policy to deal with the Pandemic.
Ex-gratia would be the first step towards grant of relief to the families who have lost their members, and this will open further gates for other reliefs expected by the Disaster Management Act, 2005 in favor of the victims of the Pandemic who has lost their life or livelihood.
The law expects the National Authority headed by Hon’ble Prime Minister to recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by Disaster. These guidelines shall include special provisions to be made for widows and orphans, Ex-gratia Assistance not only on account of loss of life but also for restoration of means of livelihood. Corona Pandemic has already declared a Disaster.
The State Authority headed by the Hon’ble Chief Minister will have to further lay down detailed guidelines for providing standards of relief which shall be no case less than the Minimum Standards fixed by the National Authority.
The law shouldered the responsibility on National Authority to recommend relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected by the Disaster on concessional terms.
Since, March 2020 we are witnessing intermittent Lockdowns, their effect on the Pandemic is yet to be studied and proved but the adverse effect of these measures on the economy, especially Small Traders, Employees of Private Firms, and Labours need no further evidence. Prime Minister has to announce that 80 Crore citizens require food grains for their sustenance under PM Garib Kalyan Yojna, this fact is indicative that 2/3rd of the Indian population is under tremendous economic stress and needs urgent relief.
The directives of the Supreme Court for the grant of Ex-gratia to the families of the deceased would prove to be the first step towards the implementation of the Welfare statute. It may have happened that the Government was taken by surprise by the 2 Waves of Pandemic but non-preparation of the National Plan and National Policy to respond and mitigate the Pandemic is unpardonable because it resulted in the loss of Lakhs of life and now would result in the devastation of Crores of families.
India being a Democratic Country guarantees its citizens Fundamental Rights that cannot be refused. Governance by law is one of the most important Rights that could be read inequality before the law. While the embargoes on business and livelihood are imposed by the Governments by invoking powers under the Disaster Management Act, the reliefs and benefits of the said law cannot be denied on any pretext, if, the Governments are having regard for the Constitution.
While welcoming the order of the Supreme Court for formulating a National Policy for releasing the Ex-gratia, we can expect the Governments to go one step ahead and also lay down a Policy for making special provisions for widows, orphans, and grant of assistance for restoration of means of livelihood with further Plan for relief in repayment of Loans as prescribed under the Disaster Management Act.