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A year after, Kerala’s insured flood victims stay drowned in despair
Kerala

A year after, Kerala’s insured flood victims stay drowned in despair

Ajayan

It is going to be a year since Basheer has been running in and out of a public sector insurance office to be compensated for the massive loss he suffered during the devastating August 2018 floods.

While the Government, which has been asserting like a refrain that it is out to rebuild Kerala after the flood, has not cared for those who suffered the flood fury, insurance companies have been playing truant.

Basheer had been running a coconut oil manufacturing unit near a river in Ernakulam district. His business was doing quite well and he had been paying his insurance premiums. August 15, 2018 morning - the water level in the river started rising to dangerous levels. Basheer with family had to rush to a relief camp where he stayed for nearly two weeks.

On returning to his unit he was shell-shocked. A good part of the copra kept in the godown had been washed away. What remained was spoilt after having remained soaked in water for days together. Practically nothing of the cartons in the godown remained. The oil mill had started rusting and was full of silt. The films used for wrapping the bottles were also lost.

He was left aghast when he found coconut oil floating in his well. The loss he suffered was as high as Rs 60 lakh. Since he had an insurance cover for this, he contacted the insurance company and surveyors were sent to assess the damage. They unofficially admitted that the damage was high. But finally he was told recently that his claim would be settled for Rs 15 lakh. He has not accepted it and is looking at options to move the higher authorities.

His is not an isolated case. Another entrepreneur specialising in making oil massage wooden tables (paathi/thoni) for Ayurveda treatment, like Basheer, had his unit near a river. The floods came and a good part of his finished products were washed away along with most of the raw materials. The machinery was sunk in silt.

The insurance surveyors were, according to his accountant and financial adviser, thoroughly incompetent. They could not properly assess the damage which was to the tune of more than Rs 65 lakh. The owner said wood quality and its variety, the wastage after readying the table (a rough assessment is that over 50 per cent of the material gets wasted when the product is finished as very high quality has to be maintained), the damage to the machinery and the building and many other factors had to be assessed.

Initial assessment was to award Rs 3 lakh which they finally raised to Rs 15 lakh. He was forced to accept it and when he said he would do so in protest and would mention it in the document, the insurance officials refused. As he had to pay his workers and also clear his loan arrears, he had to accept it. But the end result is that a year over, he is still in debt and cannot open his unit.

A hardware dealer whose materials, including tonnes of bars, rusted in the floods. Literally running after the insurance officials, an assessment was made much later. The surveyors claimed that the material was rusted and so the assessment could be made only on that basis which would work to some Rs 3 lakh when his loss was more than 25 lakh. He says he will now have to sell the stuff as scrap.

A plastic product manufacturer near Kottayam had the same tale to reel out. His loss was around Rs 27 lakh but the insurance company awarded him Rs 3 lakh.

A footwear wholesale dealer in Ernakulam revealed his tale to where the loss suffered was over Rs 55 lakh. After the flood, the insurance surveyors landed at his godown and made an assessment. Finally, the insurance company award came - Rs 3 lakh.

These entrepreneurs admit that things have been very tough after the floods. Some of them have put their establishments under lock and key. On what they received from the Government, the reply was just Rs 10,000 granted to all flood victims.

On support to restart their ventures, they said the government had promised to ensure they got loans with no collateral security. That has remained only on paper and nearly a year now, there would be several of such small-time entrepreneurs who have been pushed to penury and the insurance firms and the Government refusing to lend them a helping hand.