The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Insurance woes for widow
- Consumer court asks LIC to pay damages for harassment

Calcutta, July 15: The widow of a former railway employee learnt the hard way how much easier it is to purchase a new life insurance policy than to recover dues.

Shikha Bhattacharya of Kharagpur was her husband Nitish’s only nominee for his policy with the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

LIC officials first wanted the records of leave her husband had taken in the five years till his death. After going through the documents, they said Nitish had “suppressed” facts about his medical record while opening the policy, virtually shutting Shikha out from the benefits she needed to eke out a living.

A little less than three years after her husband’s death, Shikha has some reason to smile. She is steps away from recovering her dues, courtesy the Midnapore District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. Besides the dues, the forum has directed the Kharagpur branch of LIC to pay her a compensation of Rs 10,000. LIC was castigated for neglecting its responsibility towards providing “social security” to its clients.

“Common people purchase policy… with the hope that their nominated near and dear ones would get the sum assured in the event of death,” the court observed. “But it is really shocking to note that a reputed insurance company like LIC, upon which millions of people… rely with complete faith, can — instead of discharging their obligation and liability — raise flimsy grounds and disallow genuine claims,” said the ruling.

Consumers’ rights groups welcomed the verdict. “We hope that this verdict will deter other insurance firms from harassing genuine claimants,” Consumers’ Unity and Guidance Forum spokesperson Prabir Basu said.

Nitish — then a chief inspector in the Howrah division of Eastern Railway — complained of severe pain in the chest on the night of December 2, 2000, Shikha’s counsel Ashes Pal told the court. He died the next day. The death certificate identified the cause as “cardiac arrest”.

Soon Shikha applied for her dues. But LIC stumped her with the demand for a complete record of the leaves Nitish had taken in five years up to his death. Shikha furnished all the details, expecting the formalities to be over.

Nitish had “suppressed” facts about his medical history when he filled up the policy papers, LIC’s legal counsel Shankar Mohan Pal said.

The court asked for the records and found he had taken long medical leaves (exceeding three weeks) only thrice during the period. Barring the three occasions, all the leaves were for “short spells”, which indicated that he was suffering from common cold, influenza, diarrhoea “or even typhoid”, said the court.

The insurers have “failed to prove that Nitish suppressed” facts about his ailments that could lead to a cardiac failure, the bench comprising president of the forum P.N. Sen and member M.N. Raha ruled.

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