Covid Deaths Due To Oxygen Shortage: The Delhi High Court Nod To Delhi Govt’s High Powered Committee for Compensation

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said it saw no difficulty in the constitution of a high-powered committee (HPC) by the AAP government to probe the deaths caused by an alleged medical oxygen shortage during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra appearing for the Delhi Government submitted that the HPC is only a fact-finding Committee and that it will be assessing an amount of compensation up to Rs. 5 lakh based on objective criteria.

While giving its nod to the Committee, Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh said that it finds no difficulty in the functioning of the HPC in executing the role assigned to it. They further opined that it is not necessary to wait for the Supreme Court order concerning the grant of ex gratia compensation in terms of guidelines issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The Court was dealing with a plea moved by a woman whose 34-year-old husband died during the second Covid wave. It was her case that her husband was not suffering from any co-morbidities and that the discharge summary did not explain the cause of his death.

The woman said that her husband was admitted to a private hospital here for treatment of COVID-19 on May 10 and he passed away on May 14 due to cardiac arrest. She apprehended that the death of her husband was caused due to negligence of the hospital.

However, the court clarified that in case an amount larger than what is being paid presently as ex gratia compensation is fixed by the NDMA, the “same would also be payable to the victim”.

The court went on to record that after keeping its decision to constitute an HPC in abeyance, the Delhi government has “expressed its intention to reinstate” it, however, “due to the difference in opinion [with regards the scope of its mandate] between the council of ministers and the LG, the stalemate is continuing.” During the hearing, the bench said that it would “permit it [HPC] to go on” only if the Delhi government clarifies that the compensation would be paid by them, without fixing any liability on the hospitals.

The lawyers characterized the compensation awarded by HPC from ex gratia compensation of ₹50,000 already being paid by the Delhi government and said that the scope of work of HPC would be different from that of the Supreme Court constituted committees on issues concerning oxygen allocation and other related aspects.

The senior lawyer stated that the committee would, after calling for record and document from the hospital concerned as well as seeking an explanation, examine a complaint/representation received by it from the family of a deceased COVID-19 patient and pass a reasoned order.

Earlier, the Delhi Government had informed the Court that there is no reasonable and lawful justification for the Lieutenant Governor to object to the constitution of the High Powered Committee.

Earlier in June this year, Congress MP KC Venugopal said in the Rajya Sabha that he has moved a privilege notice against Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar.

To this Chairman of the house, Shri Venkaiah Naidu said that he is examining the matter and the minister’s response has been sought.

However, the said High Powered Committee was constituted by the Delhi Government in the aftermath of the second covid wave consisting of medical experts, tasked with the mandate to carry out a fact-finding exercise, on a case-to-case basis for ascertaining the probable cause of death after studying the records of the case produced by the hospital concerned.

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