Mumbai: Vijay Ranim, 55, a porter at Mumbai’s civic agency-run King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital for 20 years, died of Covid-19 in May. His widow Priyanka, a housewife who now has the responsibility of raising their two teenaged sons alone, was counting on the central government’s Rs 50 lakh insurance scheme for Covid warriors to get by.
But three months later, her payment claim was rejected. Under the central government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), which intends to provide insurance cover to 22 lakh health workers, Ranim’s case did not meet the eligibility criteria as he was not directly taking care of a Covid patient.
“I know that the rules say the compensation is allowed only to those who served in a Covid ward but my husband worked in the same hospital. He was also scared for his life but also feared for his job and our accommodation,” said Priyanka, who had to move out of the civic staff quarters after her husband’s death and take up a Rs 10,000/month accommodation. “Had he decided to sit at home, he would have been with us today.”
Ranim is one of 77 employees of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) whose claims under the Modi government’s insurance scheme have been rejected on similar grounds, according to data from the civic agency. This means more than 60 per cent of the 125 insurance claims forwarded by the Mumbai civic body have been rejected. Only 11 have been sanctioned so far, while 37 more are pending.
With the government’s Covid response extending well beyond hospitals — from the police personnel enforcing distancing regulations to the workers handling the tonnes of biomedical waste from medical facilities — the army of Covid warriors is not comprised solely of healthcare staff.
As the civic agency for Mumbai, a Covid hotspot since the early days of the pandemic, the BMC has been at the forefront of fighting one of the most intense coronavirus outbreaks in India.
Mumbai accounts for 3.21 per cent of India’s total Covid caseload and 15 per cent of Maharashtra’s. As of Tuesday, the city had recorded a total of 2,44,260 Covid cases, of which 19,553 are currently active. More than 2,500 BMC employees have tested positive for Covid so far. While most have recovered, 151 had died as of 15 October.
Forty-one of the employees — or 27 per cent — were working in the BMC’s solid waste department.
Asked about the rejection of claims, the Maharashtra director of health services, the nodal agency for the central government scheme in the state, says they have written to the central government about broadening the eligibility criteria.
“The central government says only those directly involved in patients’ management, diagnosis will get Rs 50 lakh. We did send them certain cases where the deceased was directly employed in a Covid ward or a dedicated Covid hospital and these should have been included. We have written to the central government about this issue,” said Dr Archana Patil, Director of Health Services, Maharashtra.
ThePrint tried to contact Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan through text messages, but there was no response. Health ministry spokesperson Manisha Verma asked this reporter to email the queries, but there had been no response to the mail by the time of publishing.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana
In March, when Covid cases began to be reported from around the country, the Narendra Modi government launched a medical insurance scheme for health workers under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY).
The scheme sought to cover healthcare workers for loss of life due to Covid, and accidental death while on Covid-related duty. It covers healthcare workers and employees, at government or private facilities, who have been in “direct contact and care” of Covid-19 patients, or volunteers enlisted by the government.
In order to get the payout, the family of the deceased has to fill up the insurance company’s application form with documents such as the deceased’s identity proof, identity proof of the claimant, proof of relationship, a Covid-positive report, death summary, death certificate, and proof of employment.
In case of BMC employees, the civic body has to certify the application. If the death is the result of an accident while on Covid-related duty, an FIR has to be filed and attached to the application along with the autopsy report.
The completed applications are sent to a technical committee that meets periodically to review the claims, and bases its decisions on the terms and conditions laid out by the central government. In Maharashtra, the claims are reviewed by a committee comprising officials of the state Directorate of Health Services (DHS).
Commenting on the rejection of the claims, Dr Nandkumar Deshmukh, joint director of health services and member of the technical committee that reviews claims under the PMGKY, said: “We are looking at every proposal very compassionately. We even refer doubtful cases to the Centre. Our committee meets everyday because I don’t want to have any delay at our level.”
Deshmukh added: “Our job is to just check whether each case fits into the criteria. If someone still wants to argue a case, they will have to argue with central government, because the guidelines are laid out by them.”
Many states have launched their own medical insurance schemes for Covid warriors, in addition to the central government’s. In Maharashtra, different departments are individually overseeing insurance payouts for employees who die on pandemic duty. The home department, for example, is paying compensation to the families of police personnel, while the BMC is doing so for the staff on its rolls.
The BMC payout is only available for personnel who don’t receive the insurance sum under the PMGKY.
Hopes pinned on BMC
Among Mumbai’s BMC-run hospitals, Sion Hospital has recorded the highest number of employee fatalities from Covid, with eight having succumbed to the virus so far.
Suresh Murkar, 52, is one of them. Murkar, who lived in Dharavi, joined Sion Hospital as a staffer in the nurses’ quarters, and was eventually promoted as lab assistant. He tested positive for Covid-19 in June.
His family spent Rs 1.5 lakh for his treatment, first in a private hospital for two weeks, and later at Sion, where he was taken after his health deteriorated. He died on 30 June. His family’s claim for compensation has been rejected as well.
“We had sent all his details for compensation but we heard that it has been rejected,” said Suresh’s brother Rajendra Murkar. “The family of one of my brother’s colleagues who died — a wardboy — has got compensation. How is a wardboy in direct contact with a patient but not a lab assistant who checks blood, urine? My brother was the only breadwinner of his family.”
Murkar’s wife Sujata is now left to fend for their two children with her earnings as a domestic worker. “We have very little income now. I have a lot of debt and have not even been able to pay rent for a while. I don’t know the technicalities, but I want the money to be disbursed. My son is in his final year of graduation, I want him to get a municipal job.”
Relatives of Appasaheb Shelar, a 54-year-old plumber at the BMC-run Bhabha Hospital in Kurla, are pinning their hopes on the civic agency after their claim under the PMGKY was rejected. Shelar, who had to go inside the Covid ward at times, died of the disease at the same hospital in May.
“My father’s colleague — one aya (helper) — also died of Covid-19, but they received compensation despite their file being sent after ours,” said Aishwarya, Shelar’s daughter.
His brother Suresh Shelar said the BMC has assured him that the family will get money within eight days. “Those who have not been given compensation by the central government will receive money from the BMC. We are hoping BMC will keep its word,” Suresh said last week.
Deputy municipal commissioner (general administration) Milin Sawant said the BMC plans to award Rs 50 lakh compensation to all municipal employees who have died of Covid-19 and are not covered by the central government scheme. The BMC has also promised a civic job to one family member of the deceased.
An official from the BMC general administration department said, “We were fighting for certain gray areas with the Centre — cases which they had rejected but we felt they should not have. I had mentioned the case of a security guard and a sewage cleaner at a Covid hospital. How can you say they will not be covered?”
“Since the Centre did not budge, we will accommodate them now from our exchequer,” the official added.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.