But the hospitals in the Indian city of Varanasi had run out of space, oxygen, medicine, tests – everything.
“They told us everything was bad and people were lying on the hospital floor, and there were no beds,” the 33-year-old said.
In theory, the program should help people like Srivastava. But experts agree that the actual death toll could be many times higher than the official number of 450,000 – and the families of some victims may miss out on compensation because they either do not have a death certificate or a cause of death is listed. Not there. COVID-19.
The Indian government has promised that no family will be denied compensation “only on the ground” that their death certificates do not mention COVID-19.
But days after the compensation plan was announced, the rules are unclear – and it’s about many Indians struggling to feed their families after losing a breadwinner during one of the world’s worst Covid outbreaks. causing tension.
On the face of it, the compensation criteria are relatively straightforward.
As per the guidelines, families can receive payments if their loved one dies within 30 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis, regardless of whether the death occurred in the hospital or at home. On Monday, the Supreme Court approved. They are also eligible if a family member died while being treated for COVID-19 in a hospital – even if the death occurred more than 30 days after diagnosis.
To be considered a COVID case, the deceased must have been diagnosed with a positive COVID test or “medically determined” by a physician. And to apply for compensation, the next of kin will have to produce a death certificate stating the cause of death.
But for many people in India, these guidelines create a big problem.
The problem has intensified during Covid, with studies showing that millions of people like Srivastava’s mother are not among the dead.
The figures suggest that the Indian government underestimated the number of deaths caused by the pandemic, a claim the government has denied.
Jyot Jeet, president of Delhi-based organization SBS Foundation, said that even though victims have death certificates, many do not explicitly list Covid-19 as a reason, as they have not been officially diagnosed. who performed free cremations during the second wave. .
Instead, death certificates of many Covid victims “say either that they died of lung failure, respiratory disease, heart failure,” he said.
The guidelines state that families can apply for modification of the cause of death on the death certificate, and claim that no family will be denied compensation “only on the ground”, on their death certificate. There is no mention of Kovid-19 in this.
A district-level committee will review their application and examine the deceased member’s medical records – and if they believe Covid was the cause of death, they will issue a new death certificate saying so as per the guidelines.
However, no further details have been given about what criteria the committee will use to find the cause of death of a month old and what evidence the families will have to provide.
“It is absolutely complicated,” said Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director of the India-based Takshashila Institution think tank, adding that if the government is determined to help people instead of arranging money, the scheme could benefit families. Is.
Granthshala has reached out to India’s health ministry for comment.
After the death of Pooja Sharma’s husband from Covid-19 in April, she felt helpless and alone, not knowing how to provide for her two young daughters.
Her husband, a shopkeeper, was the breadwinner of the family. But as her condition worsened, he asked her to take care of her children.
“I had no idea how I would do this,” said the 33-year-old mother, who lives in India’s capital region Delhi. “I didn’t go to school and didn’t know what I could do to make money.”
Sharma says her husband’s death certificate lists Covid as the cause – but she may still face an uphill battle. program Promise families will get their compensation within 30 days of proving their eligibility, although the previous government’s initiatives – both before and during the pandemic – have been beset with lengthy delays and dismal bureaucracy.
“Minority or poor communities are the most affected – first by Covid and second by the system,” said Jeet, president of SBS Foundation. Because of their low literacy level, he said it is “a difficult task” for families to navigate the complexities in the system, which includes collecting the appropriate paperwork, filling out forms, communicating with local district officials and providing medical information. .
Kotasthane, director of the think tank, is also concerned about people’s ability to access payments. “The cost of obtaining compensation should not exceed the compensation,” he said.
Sharma has already applied for the government assistance program in June against government red tape.
“I completed all the paperwork with the help of others. I used to go to government offices every day,” she said. “I didn’t hear anything from them. I don’t think the money will ever come.”
Although she will apply for the new compensation program, she said she does not believe she will receive any payments – and either way, it is not enough to cover her losses.
“I don’t know whether I will get even that much amount or not,” Sharma said. “Rs 50,000 won’t give me back to my husband. My life will never be the same.”
too little too late
Many share Sharma’s sense of disillusionment, and the feeling that the compensation offered is too little, too late.
The second wave effectively shocked an entire country, exposed the government’s missteps and sowed deep anger among the public, which was largely felt abandoned by its leaders.
Several factors played a role in the severity of the second wave. The government was slow to act and had not prepared in advance, which crippled the medical Shortage of supplies at the most desperate moment. The medical system collapsed – at the wave’s peak, more than 4,000 people were dying every day, with many on the streets and outside hospitals filled to past capacity.
The shortage also triggered a boom in the black market, driving up the price of oxygen cylinders and medicine. With no help from the government, many families had no option but to borrow money to buy high-priced goods, hoping to clear their savings and save their loved ones.
Simran Kaur, founder of Pins & Needles, a non-profit organization that supports Covid widows in Delhi, said some women are facing debt while taking care of many young children alone and without earning.
“They are already in a lot of debt because overnight, they did not earn anything from earning a monthly salary through their husbands,” she said.
“A one-time payment from the government won’t solve everything. It won’t educate her kids, pay their rent, or put food on their tables. It may sound good on paper, but it’s not enough.”
Compensation may be able to help India’s poorest families. But for most families, especially those who have lost many members to Covid, “Rs 50,000 is not going to do anything,” said Srivastava, who lost his mother.
Since the second wave, she and her sister – who both fell ill with Covid while trying to save their mother – have recovered from the infection. Dark scars remain, as well as anger at the government that “had barely done anything to prepare for Covid,” he said – but “has no choice but to recover from the tragedy.”
“In India, people accept fate, they say it was done by God, console themselves and move on,” he said. “We are used to suffering tragedies. But it is the government that has to make the effort.”
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