The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Union government to reconsider its decision of excluding suicides of people with COVID-19 from the official death toll. The top court was considering the fresh guidelines issued by the Union government to simplify the process of issuance of death certificates, as per the directions in the judgment delivered on June 30.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna asked the Union government to reconsider its decision to exclude persons who died by suicide after being diagnosed with COVID-19, from compensation for COVID-19 victims. The court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that it did not prima facie agree with the exclusion of such persons from the purview of compensation.
The bench said that exclusion of suicides where COVID-19 was an accompanying condition cannot be prima facie accepted under the guidelines. "You have to reconsider this", the top court said.
Advocate Gaurav Bansal submitted that Union government’s decision to exclude suicide from COVID-19 deaths even if COVID-19 is an accompanying condition is irrational and arbitrary.
"Recently National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (herein after referred as NIMHANS) also issued a research study titled as Suicide in the context of COVID-19 diagnosis in India: Insights and implications from online print media reports. The petitioner has learnt from the said NIMHANS research study that COVID19 related suicide rates are well above the National Average Suicide Rate and as such there is an urgent need to address the same," Bansal said in an affidavit.
The Union government had earlier told the apex court that the health ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have come out with guidelines for issuing "official documents" for COVID-19-related deaths.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Union government had also submitted that the Office of the Registrar General of India on September 3 had issued a circular to provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the next of kin of the deceased.
Deaths occurring due to poisoning, suicide, homicide and deaths due to accident, among others, will not be considered as COVID-19 deaths even if COVID-19 is an accompanying condition, the guidelines stated.
"COVID-19 cases which are not resolved and have died either in hospital settings or at home, and where a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) in Form 4 and 4 A has been issued to the registering authority as required under Section 10 of the Registration of Birth and Death (RBD) Act, 1969, will be treated as a COVID-19 death,” according to the guidelines.
The Registrar General of India will issue necessary guidelines to chief registrars of all states and union territories in this regard.
In its June 30 verdict, the top court had also ordered steps to simplify guidelines for issuance and correction of death certificates/official documents, stating the exact cause of death, that is, ''Death due to COVID-19'' for enabling dependents to get benefits of welfare schemes.
The top court's verdict has come on two separate pleas filed by lawyers Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking directions to the Union government and the states to provide Rs 4 lakh as compensation to the families of coronavirus victims as provisioned under the Act.
Four intervenors, who had lost their family members due to COVID-19 have also moved the top court through advocate Sumeer Sodhi contending that there cannot be any discrimination in the amounts being paid by different states to family members of those who had succumbed to the deadly infection.