Festival insurance

Revellers gain

Print edition : September 06, 2013

A human pyramid aiming for the Dahi Handi (pot of curd) during Janmashtami celebrations in Mumbai. Photo: SHASHI ASHIWAL

WHEN news broke of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) bizarre plan to insure Ganpati and Janmashtami revellers by using taxpayers’ money, there was a general sense of disbelief and outrage. Messages on social networking sites questioned the sanity of the lawmakers who passed the decision.

The BMC has decided to pay Rs.15,000 to participants who suffer injuries during the idol immersions on Ganesh Chaturthi and while climbing the human pyramids that are formed to break the dahi handis during the Janmashtami festival. If there are deaths that occur during these “festivities”, the Corporation has ruled that the victim’s families will get Rs.1.5 lakh. This proposal was made last year and formalised recently with the rider that the victims would be eligible for compensation only if they were admitted in civic-run hospitals. The initial proposal, made by House leader and Shiv Sena corporator Yashodhar Phanse, was to have an insurance cover of Rs.10,000 for the injured and Rs.1 lakh for the families of those who died. Later, this was increased to Rs.15,000 and Rs.1.5 lakh respectively.

Citizens groups have questioned the fairness of the scheme and have suggested that the organisers and sponsors (often politicians and builders) pay the insurance, if indeed any insurance should be paid at all. The prize money at Janmashtami events is sometimes as high as Rs.20 lakh, spurring local mandals to build dangerously high human pyramids.

Although the proposal originated with the Shiv Sena, other parties tagged along. It is something of a surprise that with elections on the horizon no one thought of including the bleeding Moharrum flagellators in the scheme. They, after all, are as much “victims” as those who choose to climb human pyramids or enter the sea carrying huge idols.

Perhaps, citizens opposed to the plan should demand that the BMC also insure all those who are affected by noise during festivals, when noise levels jump to as high as 140 decibels. Or, insure motorists and pedestrians who face daily hazards of potholed roads and sinking pavements. But these demands will have as little hope of being accepted as there is of the insurance plan being scrapped. Then again, there is hope. After all, the meaningless proposal by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Dilip Lande of renaming Mumbai’s Malabar Hill (Frontline, August 9, 2013) did die a quiet death.

Lyla Bavadam

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