Six months after applying for ex-gratia, many families of Covid-19 victims are still waiting for the compensation amount announced by the government. In some cases, despite sanction of the payments, the amount has not been credited to their bank accounts, leaving the families in a lurch. Many of these families are waiting for the sum to pay house rent and school fees of their children.
In April 2021, 46-year-old Nagesh Vishavas Unde succumbed to Covid-19 infection in the District General Hospital in Ahmednagar. His medical certificate clearly mentions his cause of death as pneumonia and Covid-19. The family applied for the ex-gratia amount in December on the portal developed for disbursement of the compensation, but is yet to receive the amount.
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Sharing their struggle, Unde’s 19-year-old son Rohan said that due to the financial constraints, his mother has been forced to work in a farm, earning Rs 200 daily to feed the family. For three months after applying for the ex-gratia, the family didn’t even get any response.
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Rohan said he had to travel 15 km from his village to the collector’s office to claim the compensation. Later, his request was forwarded to the district grievance redressal cell, which approved of the application. But two months after the claim was accepted, they are yet to receive the amount.
“The status on the website states that the GRC (Grievance Redressal Committee) has approved our application. But we haven’t received the money. Now, we have given up hope,” he said.
Rohan said the family needed the money to pay for his college fees and his younger sister’s school fees. The Unde family’s struggle is not an isolated instance. Despite the Supreme Court’s directive to the state in October 2021 – to provide the money within 30 days of application — hundreds of families are still waiting for their compensation amount in Maharashtra.
Heramb Kulkarni, founder of Corona Ekal Mahila Punarvasan Samiti, an NGO working for Covid-19 affected families in the state, has created a list of 100 such families.
The Indian Express spoke to 10 family members of Covid-19 victims, who have been making rounds of collectors’ offices for the compensation, but have received no proper explanation on why it is getting delayed.
One of them, 26-year-old Ashwini Waman from Amravati, who lost her husband in April last year, has been waiting for the compensation since January. Currently, the Covid-19 widow is staying at her parents’ house with her two-and-a-half-year-old child.
In her case, the government website shows ‘payment sanctioned’ for the amount, but the money hasn’t been credited to her account. She has rechecked the bank account details several times but to no avail.
“On the same bank account, I have received money from the state under the ‘Bal Sangopan’ scheme. So, it is not possible that my bank account is inactive or wrong. Despite several queries, the officials couldn’t trace the money,” said Waman.
As per the instruction of the Supreme Court, district administrations have been advertising the helplines of their respective areas for assistance. But the intended beneficiaries complained that no one responded to their calls. “I called the helpline number several times but it went unanswered. Now, the officials instructed me to go to Mumbai which is not feasible for me,” said Waman.
The beneficiaries and local activists claim that the system is not user friendly for the affected family members, some of whom are illiterate. The applicants receive the updates on their phones through SMS but many of the Covid widows don’t know how to read them.
“The state needs to address the issue at the block level. These people from rural parts of the state don’t understand online language,” said Kulkarni.
Meanwhile, following the directive of the Supreme Court, a Central team had scrutinised Covid-19 ex-gratia claims from 10 districts in Maharashtra in May.
Considering the huge gap in the claims that have been sanctioned, and those that have been disbursed, as well as the state’s total Covid-19 death toll, the team had also randomly screened 5 per cent of the applications to identify false claims.
As of May, a total of 1.81 lakh applications for ex-gratia have been approved by the state government.
Despite repeated attempts, Aseem Gupta, principal secretary of the State Disaster Management, could not be reached for comment.