The central government had extended the benefit of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance Scheme’ of Rs 50 lakh to about 22 lakh healthcare professionals and told the apex court about its extension for one more year starting April 2021.
“While we are dealing with a terrible second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there must be an effective policy to ensure that the nation truly acknowledges their effort and creates incentives for them. We hope it will be remedied soon by the Central and State Governments through the introduction of appropriate guidelines and measures,” the bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud said.
“We direct the Central Government to inform this Court as to how many claims are pending under the Scheme, and the timeline within which the Central Government expects to settle them,” the bench, also comprising L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, said in its order uploaded on late Saturday night.
It said they spoke not only as members of the Court, but also as grateful citizens of the country, and commend the outstanding work of all healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, laboratory technicians, ward staff, ambulance drivers, crematorium workers etc.) during this crisis.
“They have truly gone beyond their call of duty and toiled day in and day out, relentlessly without rest amidst great challenges. It is absolutely necessary to take urgent steps for their well-being to ensure that our appreciation for their tremendous efforts is not reduced to rhetoric,” the bench said in the 64-page order.
Healthcare professionals have been at the forefront of tackling this crisis, it said. “We have to recognize their contribution as medical healthcare professionals who have undertaken to protect public health using proven scientific evidence and best practices and to serve to community at large” and not just as “CORONA WARRIORS”.
“We also do not hesitate to note that the treatment meted out to these public healthcare professional during this COVID-19 pandemic has sometimes been less than ideal,” it said and highlighted some issues.
Recently, there were reports that the ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance Scheme’ would not be renewed, it said, adding “While we are happy to note that UOI’s affidavit…states that this Scheme has been extended for one year starting April 2021.”
It said that till date, only 287 claims have been settled under it, which includes claims from the families of 168 doctors who died after contracting COVID-19 while treating patients.
“Further, we would wish to use this order to place on record our sincerest appreciation for all the public healthcare professionals – not just limited to the doctors, but also nurses, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, sanitation workers and crematorium workers.
“It is through their dedicated efforts that the effect of COVID-19 pandemic is being currently tackled in India,” the bench said in its concluding paragraph of the order.