Thrissur: Bijoy Nair (name changed on request), from Palakkad, was involved in a major accident in the last week of August in his hometown. After the General Diary (GD) entry (a comprehensive log of all legal events of an accident) at the city police station, his car was towed to the manufacturer’s service centre in the first week of September. Almost 20 days have gone by, but he is clueless about when his vehicle will be repaired.
“I don’t know what’s going on there at the service centre. Whenever I call them, they say insurance surveyors are yet to assess the quotation prepared to repair the vehicle,” Bijoy told Onmanorama.
He is not alone. Hundreds of vehicle owners in Kerala, who availed of the vehicle insurance of the state-owned United India Insurance Company (UIIC) and handed over their damaged vehicle for repair in various service centres and workshops, are facing the same dilemma.
The reason: Since September 4, nearly 600 licensed insurance surveyors and loss assessors have been on strike against the UIIC's decision to employ Loss Assessing Agencies (LAAs) for assessing insurance claims.
“Last month, UIIC started appointing LAAs in Kerala for claims below Rs 50,000. The company’s ultimate aim is to replace the licensed insurance surveyors, who are qualified independent individuals, with the LAAs. Since the LAAs are appointed by the UIIC, policyholders may not receive impartial service and the company will only try to reduce their annual loss. We also see this as a calculated move to privatise the insurance services in the country,” M P Sreejith, joint convener of the Kerala Insurance Surveyors Action Council (KISAC), told Onmanorama. KISAC is a body formed to safeguard the rights of surveyors in the state.
Over 80 per cent of the claims are valued under Rs 50,000, industry data shows.
“The surveyors in India impartially do their duty, serving the public interest while eliminating fraudulent claims that might result in huge losses for the insurance companies. The surveyors are technically qualified and certified by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI). They inspect the vehicles to be repaired and prepare reports. At the same time, the employees of LAAs operate remotely from cities like New Delhi and Bengaluru and rely on making assessments based on photos taken by unskilled people without even inspecting the vehicles physically,” Sreejith said.
KISAC office-bearers claimed that since LAAs are appointed by the insurers, their assessments would only favour the companies. At present, only the UIIC has appointed LAAs. However, all the insurance companies are set to follow suit, KISAC fears.
“As of now, we are non-cooperating with the UIIC. If a favourable decision is not taken, we will launch a complete non-cooperation strike against all the insurance companies,” KISAC office-bearers said.
United Insurance rubbishes claims
However, UIIC authorities told Onmanorama that the claims by the KISAC office-bearers are all false. “Being a PSU, we cannot take unilateral decisions. LAAs are selected after the criteria set by IRDAI and the state-owned insurers appoint LAAs only on the direction of the Central government," said Thomas Padicala, deputy general manager, UIIC–Kozhikode region.
"It is true that UIIC has started availing of the services of government-approved LAAs in South India and the first state to do so is Kerala. However, protesting surveyors' claims, LAAs are appointed to speed up the claims formalities and improve the efficiency of the processes,” he said.
“All insurers are centralising their operation and making the claim settlement system more transparent to speed up services to bring down losses. We are aware of the protest and have already increased the number of LAAs from four to eight to clear all pending claims,” he added.
The UIIC authorities are also planning to take legal action against protesters if they stop LAA representatives from visiting service centres and workshops to assess repair estimates.
There are over 40 insurance companies in India and all the private companies have been availing the services of LAAs. “We don’t know why the surveyors have launched the strike against the UIIC alone,” another senior said.
Remedy for customers
“Customers may not know the intricacies of claiming insurance. So they normally depend on the service centre or workshop for the same. If they find a delay in repairing the vehicle, all they have to do is collect the work estimate from the service centre and submit it directly to the insurance issuing office. The estimate will be assessed and the insurance claim will be cleared within four days,” explained the UIIC officer. Customers can also contact the customer care for assistance, the official said.
“It has also been noticed that a few service centre operators have joined hands with the protesters and deliberately delayed the claim works. We will initiate legal action against them,” the officer added.