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NEW DELHI: A day after India’s Supreme Court approved a government plan to pay INR 50,000 ($ 674) for every coronavirus death in the country as compensation to relatives of the deceased, experts and families of the victims on Tuesday described the payment as a “joke” and “too little” to alleviate their suffering.

According to official data, India has recorded nearly 447,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic last year, with total compensation amounting to more than $ 300 million on a payout basis. of 674 dollars.

Experts say the death toll is at least 10 times higher, with most people losing their lives in the epidemic’s second wave between March and May this year.

Nitish Kumar, 15, from the eastern state of Bihar, lost both parents to COVID-19 in May.

He said that while he was “grateful” for the state’s support, it did not reduce the challenges for him and his two siblings, aged 17 and 13.

“We don’t have a guardian, and I am the only breadwinner left,” he told Arab News. “We need at least 15,000 to 20,000 INR per month to feed ourselves and pay for our studies and other expenses. How long will the compensation last?

He feared that the little money they received from the state child welfare service and their parents’ meager savings would soon run dry.

“For us, the major challenge is not only to survive but to establish ourselves and to make our future. It seems very difficult now, ”said Kumar, who wants to be a doctor.

In its Monday order, the highest court ordered the government to pay the compensation amount through the state disaster relief fund within 30 days of a family’s request.

He also warned authorities not to deny requests if death certificates did not mention COVID-19 as a cause, but clarified that “deaths from poisoning, suicide, homicide” and accidents would not be not considered deaths due to COVID-19 even if it was an accompanying condition.

He said compensation would be provided “in addition to amounts paid by the center and the state under various charitable programs.”

Gaurav Kumar Bansal, one of the attorneys who filed a petition demanding payment of INR 400,000 each to the families of COVID-19 victims, said the $ 674 disbursed by the government would not last long.

Rather, he suggested that compensation be based on need.

“The amount would mean a lot for the marginalized part of society, but it would not be enough for the rest of the well-to-do,” he told Arab News. “With a family of three, we always need money to survive.”

In his June court application, Bansal said that since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national disaster, the government was legally required to pay $ 5,500 to next-of-kin, as required by the 2005 law. on disaster management.

The government said the payment of that amount was beyond its “fiscal affordability” as it also needed funds for other expenses related to the pandemic. Government officials were not available for comment when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.

But Bansal said that although the final amount of compensation was far less than what they asked for, for many economically marginalized and vulnerable people the amount meant “something” to them.

Dr Anand Chourasia, from the eastern town of Dhanbad, lost his wife, also a doctor, to COVID-19 in April. He questioned the “value of $ 674 at that time”.

“To claim this amount, you will have to do so much paperwork that many wouldn’t bother to claim it. I think it just plays with our emotions, ”he told Arab News.

Economists argued that the government could have “honored its legal commitment” by paying each victim $ 5,500.

“The total cost of giving $ 5,500 to at least 450,000 people would not have been more than $ 2,250 million, which is less than 0.5% of the national budget and is very affordable,” Arab told Arab News Delhi-based economist Professor Arun Kumar. “The compensation of $ 674 is too low for a family, and the government should have taken into account the losses suffered by the family.”

Social activist and founder of the NGO Human Liberty Network, Suresh Kumar, called the $ 674 compensation a “joke” and “insult” to children and families who needed government support.

“India is a welfare state and the government should do everything possible to support families and children in need,” he added.

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