Holding back her tears, Bhagwati (52), widow of constable Babulal Bhavel (58), accepted the ‘COVID Yoddha Samman’ certificate from Barwani district collector in Madhya Pradesh on Independence Day last year. The certificate commended her husband’s extraordinary service during the pandemic, which eventually also claimed his life in the line of duty.
Babulal, who was in charge of the police checkpoint of the Barwani District Hospital, facilitated autopsies, issued the panchnamas, and sent bodies for cremations during the first wave of COVID-19.
He passed away on12 July 2020 within six hours of showing symptoms like high fever and difficulty in breathing. He was cremated with COVID-19 protocols and accorded a guard of honour. Babulal, the sole breadwinner for the family, is survived by his wife, four daughters, a son, and a grandchild.
Four months later, the compensation of Rs 50 lakh that his family should have received after his demise as a frontline worker (FLW) as announced by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, was rejected citing the unavailability of a COVID-positive report.
According to the family, the hospital had failed to conduct Babulal’s COVID-19 test during the few hours that he was hospitalised.
The family is now also being issued notices to vacate the government quarters assigned to Babulal, making it difficult for them to make ends meet.
“I have two daughters who are not married and a family of nine, including a grandchild to feed. In addition to that, I have been served multiple notices to vacate the government quarters and the pension is not enough to rent a home and make ends meet for such a large family,” Bhagwati said over the phone.
Babulal was among 27 such police officials, who had succumbed during the pandemic in Madhya Pradesh. But due to various conditions in place, their families have been denied the compensation they are entitled to.
Compensation Under CM’s Scheme
‘Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan’ was first launched for FLWs on 30 March last year and continued till October. Under the scheme, the families of frontline workers are entitled to Rs 50 lakh if the FLWs die in the line of duty. The scheme was resumed amid the second wave for two months from 1 April-31 May this year.
According to the data of the Madhya Pradesh Police Department, over 152 cops have succumbed to COVID-19 since the first lockdown on 25 March 2020. Nearly 40 died in the first wave and over 112 died in the second. At least 60 cops died in April this year and above 42 in May. The majority of them were from Bhopal, Indore, Sagar and Jabalpur districts.
However, as per official records, only seven cops have received benefits under the ‘Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan’ scheme.
Why Are Many Being Denied Compensation?
“Babulal died of suspected COVID-19 symptoms and no test had been conducted before his death. Hence, he isn’t entitled to the scheme,” said the letter of Relief Commissioner of Madhya Pradesh’s Revenue Department to the Barwani district collector on 24 November 2020.
“The benefit will be given to those FLWs who either died of COVID-19 or by accident on duty. Submitting COVID-19 positive report is mandatory for those who died of COVID-19 while it’s not compulsory for those who died an accidental death,” the order read. According to the conditions, Bhavel did not come in any of these categories.
A day after his death, Babulal’s wife, two daughters, a son and his fellow cops posted with him at Barwani Government hospital had also tested positive.
“It seems that the government doesn’t care about the dozens of FLWs who laid down their lives serving the people amid the pandemic. Instead of supporting their families, the government is finding excuses to deny the ex-gratia,” Bhagvati said. “Why should the family suffer when the hospital failed to conduct the test even after six hours of admission despite the doctor's prescription to conduct the test? It’s the failure of the hospital, not the family.”
Jitendra Kaushal (37), a constable posted at Bhopal’s Khajuri police station succumbed to COVID-19 on 26 September 2020, just three days after falling ill.
After being admitted to Bhopal’s Chirayu Hospital, his CT scan report confirmed a ‘very high infection of COVID-19.’ However, hours after being admitted, an RT-PCR test conducted on Kaushal came to be negative. On the morning of 26 September, Kaushal passed away due to ‘an acute respiratory syndrome, moderate viral COVID pneumonia and acute laryngitis’ as per the hospital.
However, Kaushal’s application, too, was rejected citing the unavailability of the COVID-19 positive report.
Another constable of the Special Force in Bhind district, Ramkumar Sharma (49), developed symptoms of COVID-19 on 9 September 2020. The Bhind district hospital referred him to Bhopal after his CT Scan report showed that 80% of his lungs had been affected by the virus. He was then referred to Bhopal for advanced treatment.
After Sharma’s death on 14 September, the Morena district collector wrote to the state government to grant him the FLW status and ex-gratia, clearly stating that he had contracted the virus in the line of duty and succumbed to it. However, in a reply to the letter, the government said it wasn’t convinced that ‘he was assigned COVID-19 duty.’
However, no such condition of a cop having to be specifically on COVID-19 duty is mentioned in the chief minister’s scheme.
“He had been going to office in two shifts – morning and evening in a day – by foot after crossing dozens of cantonment zones,” said his wife Girja Sharma (38). “He also sought leave when he developed mild fever nearly a week before his death, but his office had denied it,” she added.
Similarly, assistant sub-inspector Ramnaresh Pandey posted at Sagar contracted the disease on 13 November 2020. He recovered within 17 days and rejoined the duty on 30 November. However, he died of cardiac arrest on 24 December, almost three weeks after he recovered from the virus.
In his case too, the collector wrote to the state government to consider him as FLW and grant ex-gratia but the request was declined.
“I have been informed by my father's office that his application for ex-gratia has been rejected. But the reason for denial is still unknown as I haven’t received any letter from official sources,” Ramnaresh’ 27-year-old son Vishnu said.
Similarly, Sub-Divisional Officer of Police, Suresh Shejwal (58) posted in the Tikamgarh district of the state died of a brain haemorrhage after fainting on duty. He was rushed to Bhopal, but he could not survive. He was cremated with a guard of honour in Bhopal, but, the application to consider him a frontline worker was rejected by the state.
“My father was a DSP-rank officer of MP Police and had fainted on duty. He was taken to Bhopal for better treatment. He died of brain haemorrhage, but he isn’t FLW in the eyes of the government and his application for ex-gratia was turned down, citing that he did not come under any of the categories of the scheme,” said 23-year-old Rahul, son of the deceased cop.
‘Cops Were There When The Government Needed Them’
When the issue of the rejected applications was raised before former DGP Nandan Dubey, he said, “The government should show a big heart and approve the rejected applications on humanitarian grounds as the families lost their breadwinners during the pandemic.”
"Cops were there when the government needed them and many died in the line of duty. Now, it's the responsibility of the government to look after their families," he said, adding that the police department should try hard to get justice for the deceased cops.
“The cops have been demoralised by the government’s insensitive behaviour,” said another senior police officer of the MP Police. “The ill-equipped cops worked tirelessly to fight an invisible enemy away from family and died. But when their families need support, the government is turning its back on them,” he said.
Vijay Katariya, ADG, Welfare Department of State police said that whenever a cop dies, the department immediately gives Rs 50,000 to the family and additional Rs 1 lakh under ‘Benevolence Fund’ to support the family in dire need.
“We are resending the rejected applications of those cops who died during COVID-19 to secure the benefits of ‘Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan’ scheme and urging the government to reconsider it,” he said
Manish Rastogi, Principal Secretary of MP Revenue Department said, “Madhya Pradesh is offering Rs 50 lakh to the COVID-19 warriors, the highest in the country. Hence, the rules are strict. But there is no point in rejecting eligible applications. The government is committed to paying the families eligible FLWs.”
The news of denying ex-gratia to FLWs did not go well with the Congress-led Opposition in the state, which claimed that the ‘Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan’ is full of flaws.
“The policy is full of flaws,” claimed senior Congress spokesperson KK Mishra. He said that Chouhan had announced that those who die on COVID-19 duty will be considered as COVID warriors and that there was no mention of categories, like ‘COVID-19 deaths’ or ‘accidental deaths’.
“What about FLWs, like Babulal Bhavel, Suresh Shejwal, Jitendra Kaushal and others, who died in the line of duty for other reasons and don’t have COVID-19 positive certificates. Aren’t they FLWs for the government?” he asked.
He further questioned why the ‘Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan’ scheme was in effect only for a few months. “Has COVID ended for the government? If not, then why has the scheme been discontinued? What if someone dies of COVID-19 when the scheme isn't in effect. Isn't the deceased an FLW?” he asked.
“This is shameful. The government should admit all the applications of FLWs without any ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’,” Mishra demanded.