Sai Kanth visited a Meeseva centre near the Huda complex in Saroornagar on 23 November to apply for the Official Document of COVID-19 Death (ODCD) issued by CDAC to avail COVID-19 ex-gratia. He submitted his grandfather's official GHMC death certificate, Aadhar card, death summary from the hospital stating COVID-19 as the reason for death, COVID-positive report, and his Aadhar card at the Meeseva centre. They immediately scanned and uploaded all the documents to the ODCD online application portal. An ID was generated and the Meeseva officials assured Sai that he would get the certificate within 30 days. But Sai has received neither the certificate nor any confirmation call from the district officials regarding the same.
Sai's grandfather passed away due to COVID-19 on 2 April. "His death anniversary is nearing but we still haven't received any confirmation from the authorities regarding the ex-gratia payment," Sai says. "We took loans and spent over Rs. 14 lakhs for his treatment. Now, we need to repay all that. This Rs. 50k is not going to solve all our problems but it will be of some help," he adds.
Like Sai, his friend Anup who lost his mother due to COVID-19 also submitted the relevant documents at the Meeseva centre opposite the mandal office in Saroornagar in November. The documents were uploaded but Anup hasn't heard back from them after that.
Ravi (name changed) lost his father to COVID-19 and applied for ex-gratia on 18 November. "I called the Meeseva customer care but they said it's no more their thing and asked me to inquire at the collectorate. I tried calling the collectorate office but nobody picked up," said Ravi.
Despite completing 30-35 days or more after submission of application, many applicants in the state haven't received the ODCD certificate which is delaying the payment of ex-gratia.
On the other hand, Syed Najamuddin (Najam) who submitted the application at a Meeseva centre near Yashoda hospital in Malakpet on 13 November received a confirmation message from Meeseva on 7 December and downloaded the ODCD from the link provided in that message but there has been complete silence regarding the payment since then.
Najam lost his father and mother in April 2021. "In just seven days, I had to spend around Rs. 10 lakhs for their treatment. The ex-gratia amount is not going to compensate for that but still, it would be of some help," adds Najam.
On 25 September 2021, following a Supreme Court judgement, the ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued orders to all states and Union Territories to release ex-gratia of Rs. 50,000 to the next of kin of those who died of COVID-19.
Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, both lawyers-cum-petitioners, filed writ petitions seeking ex-gratia compensation for the family members of people who died of COVID-19. The Supreme Court issued a judgement on 30 June in writ petitions (civil) 554/2021 and 539 and issued guidelines for ex-gratia assistance to next of kin of COVID-19 victims on 11 September.
The National Disaster Management Authority, in its guidelines on 11 September, had stated, "The authority recommends an amount of Rs. 50,000 per deceased person, including those involved in relief operations or associated in preparedness activities, subject to the cause of death being certified as COVID-19.". On the source of funds, the guidelines said that the ex-gratia assistance shall be provided by states from State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and the amount will be disbursed by the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) or district administration.
The Supreme Court on 4 October, while approving the Centre's disaster management guidelines, said the money should be disbursed within 30 days of applying. The Bench also said that no state shall deny ex-gratia on grounds that the death certificate does not mention the cause of death as "died due to COVID-19".
Compared to other states, after much delay, the Telangana government, on 8 November, issued an order directing the district collectors to constitute COVID-19 Death Ascertaining Committee (CDAC) to issue death certificates or the ODCD to families to claim ex-gratia.
The CDAC, formed as per the guidelines issued by the Union health and family welfare ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), constitutes district collector who is the chairman, the district medical health officer (DMHO) who is the convener, and the superintendent of district headquarters hospital who is a member of the committee.
As per the Telangana government's instructions, to avail of the ex-gratia facility, people have to first visit a Meeseva centre and submit the relevant documents which will be scanned and uploaded to the application portal. The relevant documents include a COVID-positive report and death certificate of the COVID-19 victim, the hospital summary stating the reason for death as COVID-19, Aadhar card of the deceased and the relative or applicant, and the details of the applicant. Once the CDAC issues the ODCD, ex-gratia amount will be transferred to the bank account of the next of kin of the deceased.
What's the confusion?
Najam who visited the Meeseva centre at Malakpet narrates his experience. "When I visited the Meeseva centre, I was surprised to find out that the people at the centre didn't even know the documents they had to collect for the OCDC application. I had to explain to them the documents that are to be submitted," he says.
Interestingly, both Sai and Anup who visited two different Meeseva centres in the same locality of Sarooranagar received different directions to follow up on their applications. While the Meeseva centre that Anup visited asked him not to go anywhere but to wait at home for official confirmation, the Meeseva centre that Sai visited asked him to go to the collectorate and submit the same documents with a copy of the acknowledgment slip that he received from the Meeseva centre. So both Sai and Anup visited the Rangareddy collectorate in the first week of December.
At the collectorate, they were told three versions of the procedure to follow. One of the officials asked them not to come there and instead visit the district medical health office (DMHO). Another official asked them not to go anywhere while another said the government has not yet started looking into ex-gratia.
Still, Sai and Anup thought of visiting the DHMO in Shivrampally and check the status of their applications. Anup submitted all the documents there and got an assurance that he would receive a confirmation within 30 days. But it didn't happen. However, Sai's application was rejected saying that he was not the immediate next of kin of the deceased.
Who qualifies as next of kin?
The MHA notification mentions that the ex-gratia assistance will be paid to the next of kin of the deceased but doesn't provide any further definition of who will be considered 'next of kin'. "Immediate relation means my grandmother who is 75 years old with multiple health issues. All are aged and already, I have lost one family member to Covid. So why should I risk it again? That's why I kept my name as the applicant," says Sai.
Sai also visited the Meeseva centre that had accepted his application where they asked him not to worry as the system was accepting his application and asked him to wait for 30 days to get the ODCD.
What's the status?
When NewsMeter contacted officials of Rangareddy collectorate, one of the officials said the death certificate can be issued only by the hospitals. The official wasn't sure about the procedure to issue ODCD. We were unable to contact either the collector or the DMHO. The story will be updated once NewsMeter hears from them on the status of the issuance of ODCD certificates in Rangareddy.