Days after nursing officer Rajkumar Agrawal, 39, succumbed to COVID-19 in April 2021, his colleagues at Delhi government’s Lok Nayak hospital raised around Rs 2 lakh for his wife and their two children.
Since his untimely death, Rajkumar’s wife Meenal has sought help from extended family members and friends in a bid to manage finances at home, including school tuition of her sons aged five and eight years.
Nine months after his death, Meenal has claimed that she is yet to receive the ex-gratia sum of Rs one crore that the Delhi government had promised to families of COVID warriors who succumb to the virus in the line of duty. This is as per an order dated 13 May 2020.
“The Delhi government had promised ex-gratia mount of Rs 1 crore to families of doctors, nurses, and others who die of COVID-19 in the line of duty. I am yet to receive a single rupee though. How am I expected to raise our children and run this home? My husband was the sole breadwinner,” said Meenal to The Quint, over a call.
Rajkumar worked at Lok Nayak hospital as a nursing officer for a decade and breathed his last there on 29 April 2021 at 5 am.
Since 2020, when the pandemic first struck the country, he had been on COVID-19 duty roster on and off at the hospital – often spending weeks away from his family isolating in a hotel, arranged by the hospital.
Since his death, Meenal says she has sent five letters and three emails to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Health Minister Satyendar Jain, the Revenue Department, and the Lieutenant General Anil Baijal.
"The last communication from the Revenue department came in November 2021, and the letter stated that the ‘case file is under process’. I had seen photos and videos of the CM handing over the ex-gratia sum to families in under 10 days. Why has that not been done with us?"Meenal, Rajkujmar's wife
'Struggling to Make Ends Meet'
Four months before his death, Agrawal had purchased his first car, a Maruti Baleno, on EMI, amid much fanfare at home. A year later, Meenal is finalising a deal to sell it off, as she is unable to pay the EMIs.
Her brother-in-law Hemendra Gupta, a 37-year-old research scientist in Delhi, told The Quint, “Their children study at a private school in Delhi, and I had to request the principal to waive off their tuition fee as Rajkumar is no more, and Meenal doesn’t have a job yet. The fee wasn’t waived off but they did give some concession. Family members are also extending all help, but for how long?”
On 17 January 2022, the Delhi State Hospital’s Nurses Union wrote a letter to CM Kejriwal regarding pending ex-gratia amount to families of Lok Nayak hospital’s two employees – Rajkumar Agrawal and Chiineeching.
Nurses' Union Threaten Protests
The letter stated, “Both were single earning member of their families… The sacrifice of these warriors cannot be replaced… We demand you pay Rs one crore ex-gratia to their families immediately. Otherwise, it will force us to go on agitation/non-cooperation movement.”
Meenal, a post-graduate who has cleared the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET), suffered another setback in August 2021 when she got Bell’s Palsy (temporary paralysis of the muscles of the face). “Doctor said it’s because of all the stress she is under,” said her brother-in-law.
Over a phone call, as Meenal recalled Rajkumar's 19-day struggle with COVID in April 2021, she broke down. “He returned home from night duty in the middle of the second wave and complained of body ache and fever. He tested positive for COVID-19 and so did I. We sent our children away to a relative’s house. A few days later, his oxygen saturation dropped to 70s at home, and it was time to rush him to a hospital,” she said.
'No Ambulance, Struggled to get a Bed'
For two hours, Meenal waited for an ambulance, and when it didn’t show up, she pleaded with a cab driver to take the couple to Lok Nayak hospital. “They paid Rs 5,000 to the driver for a shot distance,” said her brother-in-law. At the hospital where Rajkumar spent a decade working, he waited several hours for a bed.
“It was peak second wave, and all beds were occupied. He got one finally, and stayed in the CCU for a few days. On 29 April, he passed away,” said the brother-in-law.
Nine months after his death, Meenal and the children are struggling to pick up the pieces of their life. While no one can replace Rajkumar in the lives of his wife and their two sons, Meenal hopes “a job from the Delhi government and the ex-gratia sum will help them financially.”
“The CM said that he is with Corona warriors and their families. He put up hoardings too. We are waiting for this to be proven right,” said Hemendra.