While the state has recorded 14,615 COVID-19 deaths till January 31, the number of ex gratia applications received seems to convey a different story.

Bodies lined up at a crematorium Representative Image: PTI
Delve Coronavirus Friday, February 11, 2022 - 18:28

Andhra Pradesh has received a whopping 42,942 applications for COVID-19 ex gratia of Rs 50,000 till January 31, but this is nearly three times the number of COVID-19 deaths recorded by the state. According to official data, Andhra recorded 14,615 COVID-19 deaths till the end of January. Interestingly, though the state was initially pulled up by the Supreme Court for its low pace of clearing applications, it has now cleared nearly 86% of the claims received.

On January 19, the Supreme Court had summoned the Chief Secretaries of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar to appear before it regarding the slow pace at which the two states were clearing the pending ex gratia dues. The apex court had said that people cannot be left at the mercy of the executive. Back then, as on January 16, Andhra had paid compensation to only 11,646 of the 36,205 claims it had received, that is only 32% of the total claims received. However, the state seems to have pulled up its socks and cleared a majority of the claims in the next 15 days.

Why the mismatch in death figures?

While only 14,615 COVID-19 deaths were recorded by the state till January 31, the number of ex gratia applications received seems to convey a different story. Out of the 42,942 applications received, 38,015 claims have been found eligible while less than 500 are pending approval or have been rejected out of the total applications received. Does this mean there was massive under-reporting by the state?

Speaking to TNM, Dr Arja Srikanth, who was previously the state COVID-19 nodal officer, explained the possibilities for the mismatch in the death figures. “Several patients who had contracted coronavirus may have died later due to complications that stemmed from COVID-19 but not directly due to COVID-19. There is a possibility that many such cases were not taken into account as COVID-19 deaths. Also, during the peak of the second wave, there were several bodies in mortuaries that were left unclaimed by relatives. They provided wrong contact details and fled. These bodies could not be established as COVID-19 deaths. It is likely that now the relatives are applying for ex gratia considering a big amount is being provided to the families of those who died.”

In June and October 2021, the Supreme Court had directed states to provide compensation of Rs 50,000 each for all COVID-19 deaths. The only criteria was that the relatives should possess a positive RT-PCR report and the patient should have died within 30 days of having tested positive.

Pulling up Andhra Pradesh for the slow pace of clearing the ex gratia applications, a bench of justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna said, “It is unfortunate that despite our earlier directions to pay compensation to kin or family members of persons who died due to Covid-19, and time and again directions issued, there is total callousness and negligence on part of Andhra Pradesh.” When the bench warned that the Andhra chief secretary is liable for action under the Contempt of Courts Act, advocate Mahfooz Nazki – who had appeared for Andhra – requested the court not to issue a show cause notice and sought time to report full compliance.

In the first week of February, the apex court had observed that deaths officially reported are much lower than the number of claims. The bench of Justice MR Shah and BV Nagarathna had said, “..This means that the official statistics (as recorded earlier by the states) are not true. Now they will have to redo the official figures after this exercise.”

It is likely that all states will have to rework the official state death toll and republish the figures once this exercise is over.

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