The Supreme Court has suggested that the National Disaster Management Authority consider laying down minimum standards of the relief which is to be provided to victims of COVID19 pandemic.
A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat made this observation in the order passed in the suo moto case In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during Pandemic.
The bench noted that Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act empowers the NDMA to recommend guidelines for the minimum standard of relief to be provided to persons affected by disaster. NDMA can create guidelines stipulating minimum standards of relief for providing ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life and restoration of means of livelihood in terms of Section 12(iii) of DMA. Under Section 12(iv) of the DMA, the NDMA has been given wide powers to provide guidelines for any such relief that may be necessary.
Taking note of these provisions, the bench observed :
"In light of the human suffering and loss of livelihood that has accompanied this pandemic, NDMA may consider laying down minimum standards of relief in this regard".
The Court however clarified that this was not a direction but a suggestion that can be looked into by the NDMA.
The bench also noted that the COVID-19 disaster is being managed as per the National Plan formulated in 2019 under Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act.
Supreme Court had turned down plea for laying down minimum standards for relief in CPIL case last year
Last year, the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking a fresh National Plan to deal with the unforeseen problems created by COVID19 pandemic.
In August 2020, a 3-judge bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, in the case Centre for Public Interest Litigation vs Union of India, had held that the existing national plan of 2019 was sufficient to take care of the aspects of COVID19 pandemic. The Court had observed in the CPIL case that the 2019 national plan had also discussed aspects of public health emergency and epidemics.
Also, in CPIL case, the 3-judge bench had held that there was no need to lay down minimum standards for relief as per Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act.
The bench observed that the Government of India vide order dated 14.03.2020 has decided to treat COVID-19, the pandemic, as a notified disaster for the purpose of providing assistance under State Disaster Response Fund. Norms of assistance for ex-gratia payment to families of deceased persons, norms of assistance for COVID-19 positive persons requiring hospitalization and some other assistance to be provided from State Disaster Response Fund have been notified by the Government of India.
Therefore, the Court held that Union of India is not obliged to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of the Act, 2005 for COVID-19 and the guidelines issued under Section 12 providing for minimum standards of relief holds good for pandemic COVID-19 also.
National plan be supplemented by additional orders, Supreme Court in Suo Moto case
In the suo moto case, the 3-judge bench adverted to the CPIL judgment, which had held that there was no need to develop a fresh National Plan under Section 11 for COVID-19 since a National Plan was already in place, which was being supplemented by various orders and measures taken by competent authorities under DM Act.
"Therefore, the National Plan, 2019 can be supplemented by the issuance of additional guidelines to tackle any aspect of disaster management including the issue of admission to hospitals and access to essential drugs and vaccines in respect of COVID-19", the Court observed in the suo moto case.
Title : In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic, Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No. 3/2021
Coram : Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat
Citation : LL 2021 SC 236Click here to read/download the order