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[COVID-19] Give reasons for not increasing insurance coverage to non-healthcare frontline workers: Karnataka HC to state government

It was submitted that the State is suffering from a financial crunch owing to lack of revenue.

Rintu Mariam Biju

Earlier this week, the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to submit reasons for not enhancing the accident coverage for non-healthcare frontline workers from the present ₹30 lakh to ₹50 lakh in case of their death during COVID-19 duty.

Non-healthcare frontline workers include Police, Fire Services, and Home Guard personnel, anganwadi workers, pourakarmikas and other sanitation workers, and sanitation-related vehicle drivers and loaders.

The order passed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Arun Kumar reads as follows:

"Appropriate officer of the State Government must file an affidavit placing on record the reasons for coming to the conclusion Rs 30,00,000 cannot be enhanced to Rs 50,00,000 (as insurance scheme for non-healthcare frontline workers)."

Karnataka High Court

During the course of the hearing, the Finance Department of the state government had apprised the Bench that it was not possible to enhance the amount to Rs 50 lakh, as was offered by the Union government to the healthcare workers under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package.

The reason for the same was that the State is suffering from a financial crunch owing to lack of revenue. The amount of Rs 30 lakh is paid by the state government from its exchequer, unlike the Rs 50 lakh offered by the Centre through an insurance scheme, Government Pleader Vikram Huilgol submitted.

N-95 Masks and Hand Sanitizers as essential commodities

The Bench noted that the Central government had filed an affidavit justifying its earlier stand of not extending the status given to N-95 masks and hand sanitizers as essential commodities.

During the last hearing, Court had asked state government to find out about the availability of N-95 masks and hand sanitizers along with their price range in various districts in the state. The Court had asked the State to undertake this exercise keeping in mind the high number of COVID-19 cases in Karnataka.

On this issue, the Court observed,

"...the state government has not even made an effort to ascertain whether N-95 masks and hand sanitizers are available in adequate quantities across the state. The state government could have called for data from various districts. Instead of doing that, the state government has furnished a chart showing the position of availability of N-95 and masks in various districts...."

Thus, the Court urged the state government to come out with some authentic data on the aforesaid items being available in the market at reasonable prices.

Denial of admission to COVID-19 patients

The Bench has also asked the state government to respond to an email sent to the office of the Chief Justice by a senior citizen named Chikkanarasaiah, who complained about the death of his 37-year-old son-in-law Chethan Kumar in July after 15-20 government and private hospitals refused to admit him without a COVID-19 negative report.

Though a leading private hospital admitted him last minute, he died owing to delay in getting treatment, the e-mail states. Further, it also pointed out that there were two conflicting COVID-19 reports, one negative and one positive, which added to complications.

The seventy-year-old man has also narrated the difficulty in securing the body for cremation. The email seeks compensation to his daughter and her two young children from the government for its failure to provide treatment in time.

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