Bombay Health Denies Widow’s Compensation Claim, Says Husband Was Hand Pump Helper Not Covid Warrior

In a recent decision, the Bombay High Court (BHC) denied a widow’s petition for compensation, stating that her late husband was not eligible to be considered a Covid Warrior since he was working as a hand pump assistant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench consisting of Justices Ravindra V. Ghuge and RM Joshi declared: “In actuality, the hand-pump operators are permitted to use the hand-pumps to supply water.” The deceased worked as the hand-pump operator’s assistant. Nothing in the evidence that we have in front of us suggests that he was given a particular instruction to deploy as a member of the several batches of workers that were formed in order to lower the number of employees on duty between April 15, 2021, and April 29, 2021.

A widow had gone to the High Court to ask the government for Rs 50 lakh ex-gratia, claiming that her late husband—a hand-pump helper—had carried out necessary work during the COVID-19 epidemic and was thus a Covid Warrior. Her argument was reinforced by his regrettable death from COVID-19, even if the Zilla Parishad rejected it because of a strict interpretation.

The widow’s attorney, SN Janakwade, highlighted a number of pertinent papers, including government decisions, medical reports, and a service certificate. The Law and Justice Department’s office directions were also mentioned.

On the other hand, Additional Government Pleader (AGP) RS Wani said that the dead was the Hand-pump Operator’s Hand-pump Madatnis (Helper). According to the Government Resolution regulating insurance coverage and ex-gratia assistance for Covid-related duty fatalities, the AGP contended that an employee was not qualified for the ex-gratia payment unless they were allocated entirely to Covid-related activities throughout the epidemic.

He also suggested taking ex-gratia support into account for workers who were serving during the outbreak. No decision designating the dead for Covid-related tasks was validated by a committee made up of representatives from the Zilla Parishad and other administrative entities.

The Government Resolution, which describes the process for evaluating claims pertaining to COVID-related deaths, was highlighted by the court. It was said that a number of individuals, including government and healthcare staff, were involved in such jobs, which resulted in fatalities. The State Government created a Personal Accident Cover of Rs 50 lakh for these workers in recognition of their services, with ex-gratia aid available for any fatalities that occur while they are on the job.

The bench also outlined certain qualifying requirements, such as being on duty for at least 14 days prior to hospitalization or death, having those requirements validated by authorized authorities, and getting a medical certificate attesting to COVID-19 as the reason of death. Temporary and contract employees are now included in the coverage.

The court further observed that the petitioner had not claimed that the Zilla Parishad was accountable for the undated certificate that the committee of three members had issued. However, the fact that the certificate states that the deceased was on duty for 14 days prior to his death on April 29, 2021, raises suspicions. This certificate’s legitimacy is seriously questioned. The Zilla Parishad-owned document, dated 21.03.2023, states that the deceased was on leave from April 15, 2021, until April 29, 2021.

The deceased’s duty status before to his death was found to have contradicting facts, according to the court’s ruling after carefully examining the medical certifications. One certificate said he was on active service, while another said he was on leave because of COVID-19. Given that his job as a Hand-pump Helper did not necessarily include COVID-related activities and that there was no formal deployment order in place at the relevant time, there was insufficient information to determine his precise responsibilities during the epidemic.

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