Janmashtami goes on a cover drive

    Rahul Wadke
    Deepa Nair
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New heights: This year, about 3,000 teams have been
covered under accident policies for injuries. — Paul Noronha
New heights: This year, about 3,000 teams have been covered under accident policies for injuries. — Paul Noronha

Many festival committees are insuring people participating in the risky ‘dahi handi’ game

The Dahi handi celebrations, part of Janmashtami festivities in Mumbai and its suburbs, are literally reaching new heights. And so is the insurance cover for the ‘Govinda’ teams participating in these festivities.

This year, about 3,000 teams have been covered under accident policies for injuries.

The dahi handi exercise involves the breaking of a pot tied at a height of three to five storeys by Govindas — players who form a human pyramid to reach the pot, in a re-enactment of Lord Krishna’s antics.

The pot usually contains reward money and many teams participate for a shot at this prize.

Injury risk

Occasionally, these attempts result in some players getting injured. Dr Atul Goel, Head of the Department of Neurosurgery at KEM Hospital, told Business Line that some of the participants injure their spines and skulls while forming the pyramids.

If the injury is severe, this can even make them paraplegic. “No amount of medical compensation can make them healthy again,” he said.

According to officials of mandals (festival committees), the height of the human pyramids has been rising steadily over the years. And the cash prizes on offer are now as high as Rs 15 lakh.

“Naturally, the risks and the possibility of accidents are quite high. Since 2003, we have been expanding our insurance coverage. This year we have taken cover for 250 people,” said Sameer Sawant of Premnagar Sports Club, Sion.

Sachin D. Khanvilkar, Administrative Officer at Oriental Insurance, says the number of mandals covered has been increasing every year. This year the insurer has covered around 1,500 mandals.

“We have been able to settle claims within a week over the last couple of years. Hence, we have been getting more requests from mandals,” said Khanvilkar.

For accidental death and permanent disability, the victim or his family will get Rs 1.5 lakh. “Most public-sector insurers offer the cover as part of a social commitment. The risks are high and it is not a profitable portfolio for insurers,” said a senior official from New India Assurance.

Political sponsors

Apart from sponsors of the mandals, political parties, such as the BJP, are at the forefront in providing group personal insurance accident cover to teams.

Ashish Shelar, President of the BJP’s Mumbai city unit, told Business Line that given the popularity of the festival, the party has decided to provide cover to 350 registered teams across the city.

About 30,000 persons stand to benefit from the policies. The premium amount and other expenses are borne by the party, he said.

A senior leader of the Shiv Sena said his party had provided insurance cover to 200 teams.

(This article was published on August 27, 2013)
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