India’s Covid toll tops 400,000, courts seek damages for pandemic victims

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India’s Covid-19 toll crossed 400,000 while infections touched 30.45 million. The grim milestones appeared as the courts told the government to fix compensation for victims of the pandemic, which has pushed millions into poverty.

India reported 853 deaths 24 hours to Friday which propelled the Covid toll to 400,312, ranking the South Asian country after Brazil and the United States.

Half of the total fatalities occurred during a devastating surge when healthcare services buckled and crematoriums worked overtime during April and May.

India also posted 46,617 fresh cases, which marked a steady dip in daily new infections, the health ministry said, adding the rate of recovery had also improved in recent weeks.

Active cases fell by 13,620 in the past 24 hours to half a million.

India saw 10 million coronavirus infections since 4 May, according to one tally.

India’s vaccine puzzle

India has promised to vaccinate its adult population of 950 million by the year-end but the stuttering inoculation drive put a question mark on the target.

India gave out a record 8.6 million jabs on 21 June when the government took charge of the program from states authorities but a day later the number slipped to 5.4 million and then to 4.2 million on Thursday.

The government promised to bump up the program by rushing 120 million vaccine doses to the states in July.

“July has come, the vaccine has not arrived," opposition party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi, sparking a war of words with Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

“Just yesterday, I put out facts on vaccine availability for the month of July,” the government minister responded.

“Does he not read? Does he not understand? There is no vaccine for the virus of arrogance and ignorance!!” the minister added.

Kiran Rijiju, another government minister, attacked the opposition politician.

"Very sad to see such irresponsible statements to discredit the #LargestVaccineDrive After Govt of India provided 75% of vaccines available for free, vaccination speed picked up & 11.50 cr doses were given in June, " he wrote on social media.

The government separately told the courts it will have 1.35 billion vaccine doses in hand by December.

India has so far given 340 million doses but just around four percent of the population has received both shots.

Damages for victims

India’s Supreme Court meanwhile ordered the authorities to fix the quantum of compensation that can be handed out to families of Covid victims.

The ruling with a six-week deadline came after petitioners sought 4,500 euros in damages.

Rights activists praised the ruling but some others criticized the top court.

“The Supreme Court should not interfere too much. The (Indian) constitution, in my opinion, does not give them the powers they assume,” prominent educator Mohandas Pai said in a public discussion.

“This is judicial overreach,” he said as a three-judge bench also ruled death certificates of victims must specify Covid-19 as the cause of fatality amid complaints that several states were under-reporting casualties.

Investigative writer Saurav Das told Mirror Now TV un-counted deaths were “in thousands”.

“The excess deaths are in thousands because I am getting district level data from many states,” Das said, adding the undercount occurred largely during the April-May surge on India.

Last month, Bihar state added thousands of names to the list of people who succumbed to the virus but were not counted.

Gandhi’s Congress party has alleged 200,000 Covid deaths in Madhya Pradesh when the central Indian state has put the official toll at around 8,900.

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