Don’t keep ex-gratia claims of COVID-19 victims’ kin pending if not filed online, HC tells Maharashtra govt

The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government through an interim order to not keep pending the applications made for ex-gratia claims by kin of COVID-19 victims, merely because those were not filed online.

A bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta also directed the Maharashtra government, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the Union government to file their replies to a PIL seeking directions to the state government to pay such ex-gratia amounts even to those who filed their applications physically or by post, and not through the state government’s online portal.

The Maharashtra government’s counsel, Poornima Kantharia, told the HC that the state had received a total of 114 applications for ex-gratia payments physically or by post in Mumbai suburban and city areas, and 54 of these applicants had been contacted by officials for assistance with the online procedure.

Their applications were now pending with the BMC, she said.

The state was unable to trace the whereabouts of 14 of the applicants and, hence, was unable to assist them with the online method of applying, Kantharia said.

The court asked Kantharia if the state government was willing to make a statement that it will not reject an application merely because someone had applied physically.

Kantharia, however, said the online portal had been formulated by the Maharashtra government in accordance with an order of the Supreme Court and was meant for the benefit of the applicants.

She further said the state government was willing to provide requisite assistance to those who were not comfortable with the online system of applications.

The petitioner’s counsel, Sumedha Rao, told the HC many of those laying claims to such ex-gratia payment were slum dwellers or poor people, who were not adept at filing claims and annexing documents online.

“The SC also said ex-gratia must be paid within 30 days of one applying for the same. Almost 50 people applied for the payment physically between October and November last year from across Maharashtra before the formation of the portal,” Rao said.

These applications have been acknowledged by the collector concerned, but the claimants have not been paid yet, she told the HC.

“The formation of the portal was delayed. Let the state not delay payment for those who applied physically before the portal was formed,” she said.

But, Kantharia argued that the petitioners must not insist on physical applications being accepted, as the online procedure was easier and was a convenient and more streamlined method.

The HC then asked all the respondents to file replies and said that by way of an interim measure, those who had applied physically must be assisted by the state authorities to apply online.

It also said that “earnest steps” must be taken by the state to assist the applicants.

“But, if they are not in a position to apply online, do not keep their applications pending on the ground of online applications,” the HC said.

The high court will hear the PIL further on February 14.

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