Bihar govt Covid-19 aid pace ‘tardy’
The Bihar government has been quite slow in providing compensation to family members of Covid-19 victims raising questions about systemic flaws in the process.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar had announced Rs 4 lakh ex gratia in May for the next of the kin of those who succumbed to Covid-19.
According to government data, it has paid the amount to the kin of just 42 per cent or around 4,100 of the 9,661 Covid-19 victims (official figures) so far. This has led to serious problems being faced by the families of the victims that are yet to receive the compensation.
A majority of these deaths had happened by June this year, when the state government revised the pandemic toll by a whopping 73 per cent from 3,951 to 9,429 after an audit conducted under directions of Patna High Court which had noticed inconsistencies in death figures reported by different government agencies.
According to the government, funds are not a problem for this purpose and the district administrations have been provided ample money to deal with the situation and more money could be transferred, if needed.
Jehanabad, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Begusarai and West Champaran are on the lowest rung in compensation distribution among all 38 districts in the state. They have managed to disburse just 21 to 35 per cent of the money allotted to them to distribute to the kin of Covid-19 victims through RTGS (real-time gross settlement).
Asked about the slow pace, Begusarai district magistrate Arvind Kumar Verma said the delay happened partly due to a mismatch or errors in the names and bank account details of the kin of the victims.
“However, we have approved 80 per cent of the claims of the kin of 387 victims in our district. We are going to provide the ex gratia to all the eligible persons in the next 10-15 days,” Verma said.
Madhubani district magistrate Amit Kumar said: “Camps are being organised at the level of circle officers to expedite the process of providing compensation.”
Additional chief secretary (health) Pratyaya Amrit and disaster management secretary Sanjay Kumar Agarwal did not respond to calls or messages from this newspaper.
However, a senior IAS officer said on the condition of anonymity that the delay has been “an outcome of the way the bureaucracy complicates everything. The state government has the data of all the deceased and their next of kin. It could have proactively reached out to them on its own, provided compensation quickly, and won accolades from the people. However, it chose to ensure that those in grief and need come to it, and flaws could be detected in their applications, names and bank accounts”.
According to data obtained by RTI activist Shiv Prakash Rai from the state planning and development department, it seems that the Covid-19 death toll could be much more than the official figures.
Altogether 3.59 lakh deaths were registered in Bihar in 2019. The pandemic broke out in the state in March 2020 and 4.15 lakh deaths were recorded during the year. The toll in the first five months of this year from January to May has been 2.24 lakh. Estimates suggest that the final death figures at the end of the year could be anywhere between 5 and 6 lakh.
“The Covid years have shown a sharp jump in the number of deaths in comparison to 2019 without any clear reason apart from the pandemic. It is a pity that the state government is not paying attention towards this. The indications are that lakhs of people could have died in Bihar due to Covid-19,” Rai said.
“We must also bear in mind that all deaths, especially those in the rural areas or in less educated and poor families, are not registered with the government,” Rai added.
The CPI-ML has been continuously asserting that at least 2.5 lakh people have died of Covid-19 in Bihar. The party has conducted a village-to-village survey in several districts in the state and has submitted its findings to the Assembly and Patna High Court.