Compensation for death of Covid-19 warriors is not bounty, says Bombay High Court [16.4.2024]

Compensation for the death of COVID-19 warriors was not a bounty, and cases seeking ex-gratia cannot be dealt with casually, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court said while dismissing a petition filed by the widow of a handpump helper who died during the pandemic.

A division bench of Justices Ravindra Ghuge and R M Joshi said there was nothing "perverse or erroneous" in the order passed by the Maharashtra government rejecting the woman's application seeking compensation of Rs 50 lakh.

The order was passed on the petition filed by Kanchan Hamshette from Nanded district, who sought ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh from the government as her husband, who she claims was deployed by the government, had died after getting infected with the coronavirus.

During the pandemic, the state government introduced a comprehensive personal accident cover of Rs 50 lakh to employees who were on active duty relating to survey, tracing, tracking, testing, prevention, and treatment and relief activities.

Hamshette, in her plea, stated that her husband, who died in April 2021, was performing a task that fell in the category of essential services.

She sought the high court to quash a communication the state government had issued in November 2023 rejecting her application.

The court, in its order, said there can be no debate that such cases must be dealt with with sensitivity, care and caution.

"On the one hand, such cases have to be scrutinised thoroughly, but on the other hand, it has to be kept in mind that cases which are not qualified for payment of Rs 50 lakh as ex-gratia cannot be entertained as if such amounts are a bounty," the court said.

If such cases are dealt with casually and compensation amounts granted, people ineligible for such compensation would receive Rs 50 lakh from the taxpayers' money, it said.

The high court accepted the government's contention that the petitioner's husband was a handpump helper and was not employed for COVID-19 duty by any competent authority.

16 Apr 2024