August 27, 2019
Kerala faced the wrath of monsoon with landslides and flood leaving at least 105 people dead. Trade which was looking at recouping after the devastating August 2018 flood appears to have reached a dead end. Insurance claims of traders appear to have been settled at very low rates, nudging traders further down the abyss of disaster.
A classic case is that of Basheer (name changed as he is still fighting his case out with a public sector insurance firm), a coconut oil merchant in Ernakulam district. He has his mill close to a river. He had paid his insurance premiums and his trade was doing quite well.
On August 14, 2018, the ruler level started rising after dams were opened. He had to rush with his family to a relief camp. He returned after nearly two weeks only to find mounds of silt nearly covering his machinery. There was no copra in his godown as it was taken away by the gushing waters along with the cartons. Oil stored in the mill had also flowed away and a thick layer of it was there in his well.
The loss he suffered was around Rs 60-65 lakh. He contacted the insurance company and its surveyors came for assessment of damage. The shock came when he was informed by the insurance firm that his loss had been assessed and he was eligible to a claim of Rs 15 lakh. But Basheer has not accepted it and is set to challenge it in a legal forum.
The case of another hardware trader in Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district is no different. His stock of tonnes of bars and other iron material rusted in the floods. Finally weeks after the flood, insurance surveyors came, what they assessed was rusted stuff and so the claim could be only for Rs 3 lakh when the loss, the hardware owner says, is over Rs 25 lakh.
His dilemma now is that the rusted stock can be sold only as scrap.
A plastic product manufacturer has just rusted machinery at his unit in Alappuzha. He found it hard to convince the insurance surveyors that there was a lot of stock once which was taken away by the flood waters. He had no material to show the surveyor. What he got as claim was meagre, he admitted.
An entrepreneur making oil massage wooden tables used in Ayurveda treatment saw the floods take away not only some of the finished products but even raw materials, mainly quality wood of select variety.
Like Basheer and several other entrepreneurs and traders, he too feels ‘cheated’ by his insurance firm. His loss was at least Rs 65 lakh but the insurance company offered him just Rs 3 lakh. After much deliberations and pleadings, the company finally raised it to Rs 15 lakh and even refused to allow him to accept it with his rider that it was under protest. Loan repayments, wage arrears and other financial issues forced him to accept it. He is yet to restart his once flourishing niche business.
The promise of loans without collateral security to restart ventures is still a dream. A top official of an insurance inspection firm told The Covai Post that there were a few cases where the loss was inflated by the claimants and timely action was taken. But deserving cases were dealt with harshly. This woul be the case in other states like Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Maharashtra which faced flood fury this time.