The Centre has told the apex court that it cannot pay compensation to the families of Covid-19 victims on the grounds of fiscal stress. It was expected that the government would pay Rs 4 lakh to each of the families. India has so far officially accounted for 3.88 lakh deaths due to the virus. Even assuming that 4 lakh people have died, the total bill would come to about Rs 1.6 lakh crore – a large sum indeed.
Or is it? If one goes a level deeper, the figure might not look that intimidating.
Instead of considering universal compensation, the government should apply filters to find out how many of the families actually need cash assistance. It would be considerably less than the total number of deaths. With PAN, bank accounts, and IT returns all linked to Aadhaar it would be easy to track down the income levels of the families who have succumbed to the infection.
For example, those earning above Rs 10,000 or have two-wheelers, automobiles, a fridge, TV, or pay income tax, or have landholding above a ceiling can be excluded as in the Ayushman Bharat programme. If the government can find out who are in need of free foodgrains, surely it can also find out which families would need cash assistance.
There might be arguments that such an approach to pay compensation to only Covid victims be unfair since a lot of poor families lose their breadwinners to other diseases as well. The argument might seem sound till the time one considers that the pandemic is a once-in-a-century phenomenon that has paralysed the globe and nothing could be compared to the misfortune it has immersed mankind in.
The government should modify its approach to compensation. All families don’t need it in the first place.
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