New Delhi, (PTI): The Supreme Court Thursday appreciated the Centre's step to grant ex-gratia assistance to the kin of those who died due to COVID-19 saying it has to take judicial notice of the fact that what India has done, no other country has been able to do.

We are happy that something has been done to wipe the tears of many families, apex court said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre said, We cannot repair the loss of life but whatever the country could do for the families who have suffered, is being done."

A bench of Justices M R Shah and A S Bopanna, which took on record two affidavits filed by the Centre, said it will pass orders on October 4 with some directions, authorising the grievance redressal committees at district level to call for hospital records of the deceased, in case of any dispute over issuance of death certificate.

We are happy that there will be some solace to the persons who have suffered. It will wipe the tears of many families. We must take judicial notice of the fact despite so many problems of population and overpopulation, something has been done. What India has done, no other country has been able to do," the bench said.

The top court was hearing a batch of pleas filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal and some intervenors who lost their family members to COVID-19.

Represented by advocate Sumeer Sodhi, they were seeking ex-gratia assistance to kin of those who lost their lives to the deadly virus.

At the outset, the top court raised some concern as to what will happen if hospitals do not mention the cause of death as COVID-19, despite the person losing his life due to post COVID complications.

Mehta said the next of kin can approach the district level committee, to be constituted under the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines, for redressal of grievances over the issuance of death certificate.

The bench said, Sometimes hospitals behave like a monarch and don't give medical records to the family members or hand over the dead bodies to them. We have to take care of those people also .

Such family members of the COVID-19 victims can also approach the committee which can call for the hospital records, Mehta said.

The bench said it will pass orders authorising such committees to call for hospital records of patients, if needed.

Mehta said the next of the kin of the deceased can show to the committee some evidence like RT-PCR test report to show that the patient was COVID positive before his death in case the hospital does not mention the cause of death.

The NDMA has recommended that Rs 50,000 be given to the kin of those who died of COVID-19, the Centre had informed the top court on Wednesday.

It had said that ex-gratia assistance will also be given to the kin of those who died of the virus due to involvement in COVID-19 relief operations or activities associated with the preparedness for dealing with the pandemic.

The government had said that NDMA has issued the guidelines on September 11 in compliance with the directions of the apex court given on June 30 wherein it had directed the authority to recommend guidelines for ex-gratia assistance.

The authority recommends an amount of Rs. 50,000 per deceased person including those involved in relief operations or associated in preparedness activities, subject to cause of death being certified as COVID-19, as per the NDMA guidelines.

The assistance will not be limited to families affected by COVID-19 deaths in the first and second wave of pandemic but will continue in future phases of the pandemic as well, the authority had said.

The family will get ex-gratia assistance subject to cause of death of their kin being certified as COVID-19 as per the guidelines issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it had said.

The ex-gratia assistance will be provided by states from State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and all claims will be settled within 30 days of submission of required documents, and disbursed through Aadhaar linked Direct Benefit Transfer procedures, it had added.

Detailing the methodology, the guidelines have stated that the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)/district administration would disburse the ex-gratia assistance to the next of kin of the deceased persons.

The concerned families will submit their claims through a form issued by the State Authority along with specified documents including the death certificate that certifies the cause of death to be COVID-19 , it had said.

The affidavit had said that the DDMA will ensure that the process of claim, verification, sanction, and the final disbursement of ex-gratia payment will be through a robust yet simple and people friendly procedure.

The NDMA guidelines further state that in case of any grievances with regards to certification of the death, a committee at the district level -- consisting of Additional District Collector, Chief Medical Officer of Health, principal of Head of Department of a Medical College (if existing in the district) and a subject expert -- will propose remedial measures, including issuance of amended official documents for COVID-19 death after verifying facts.

The apex court had in its June 30 verdict directed the NDMA to recommend within six weeks the guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life to the family members of persons who died due to COVID-19.

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Hong Kong, Oct 25: Amnesty International said Monday it would close its two offices in Hong Kong this year, becoming the latest non-governmental organization to cease its operations amid a crackdown on political dissent in the city.

The human rights group said its local office in Hong Kong would close this month while its regional office will close by the end of the year, with regional operations moved to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.

This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong's national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government, Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty's board, said in a statement.

Hong Kong implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests. The law outlaws secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city's affairs. More than 120 people, many of them supporters of the city's democracy movement, have been arrested under the law.

The majority of the city's prominent pro-democracy activists are behind bars for taking part in unauthorized assemblies, and dozens of political organizations and trade unions have ceased operations out of concern for their members' personal safety under the security law.

Bais said the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signaled authorities were intensifying their campaign to rid the city of dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment, she said.

Critics in Hong Kong say the national security law is an erosion of freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly, that were promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.