Pay Up

The Supreme Court’s unqualified endorsement of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s directives on swift insurance disbursals for flood-hit businesses and families had raised expectations of smooth and hassle-free interim settlements outlined by the judiciary, but insurance companies seem to be reluctant to abide by the ruling in letter and spirit on one pretext or the other.

An oft-repeated complaint in the business community, however, is that the directives have been followed only in a few cases, while a majority of claims from traders and others are being stalled by insurance companies, both in the public as well as the private sector, which have adopted more or less similar tactics. The companies either do not assign surveyors to assess losses, or come up with flimsy excuses like absence of proper documents in the case of the claimants. The last, flood victims rightly point out, is particularly unreasonably as insurance companies ought to be the first to know that documents and records have as much chance of surviving calamities such as the September floods in Kashmir as have insured goods and property. Besides, and again rightly, insurance companies have their own copies of agreements and other records, most of them computerized, making it easy for them to verify claims. This insisting on documents, therefore, can be construed as harassment and reluctance to meet commitments to their customers.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has been acutely sensitive of the post-flood situation in the state to have advised insurance companies not to get stuck in formalities, and even give rules and regulations the go-by in view of the extraordinary damage left behind by the waters, and not the least because willful irregularity or misrepresentation in claims would be rare amid the state’s suffering. But still insurance companies appear to have chosen to go slow.

With winter approaching fast, businesses and families have only so much time to rebuild shops, houses and other damaged property, and delays by insurance companies can make their situation more desperate.

Though there is some progress in small claims, cases involving heavy losses and commensurate claims are being held back. Moreover, banks issuing loans usually tie them up with certain insurance companies whose cover they demand their clients opt for. Such institutions and motor vehicle companies have a moral responsibility to urge their partners in business to uphold their commitments.

Policy-holders pay large insurance premiums precisely as a safeguard against bad days. What good is insurance if it fails to deliver in times of need?