Speaking at a closed-door discussion organised by Moneylife Foundation, IRDA chairman J Hari Narayan said that draft guidelines assert that disadvantaged persons should not be ground for rejection or increase in premium
The Blind Graduates Forum of India (TBGFI) has requested the insurance regulator to issue a circular to all insurance providers clearly instructing them not to discriminate in many manner whatsoever against persons with disabilities, specially those who are blind and have low vision.
At a select meeting organised by Moneylife Foundation with Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) chairman J Hari Narayan on 16th May, Suhas Karnik, a representative of the blind graduates forum, pointed out that the Delhi High Court has already struck down one such arbitrary practice by Postal Life Insurance which used to charge a higher premium from the disabled and also restrict the sum assured to Rs1 lakh, instead of the normally available Rs5 lakh. Yet, those who are blind are being discriminated even when they are earning and in a position to pay for insurance protection for themselves and their families like anyone else.
The forum submitted a memorandum to the IRDA chairman with regard to the discrimination that they face from insurance companies including Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). This varies from outright denial of mediclaim and sometimes life insurance, charging extra premium due to perceived higher medical risk for death, lower sum insured and no risk cover for insuring against accidents or diseases.
Responding to their plea, Mr Hari Narayan said, "The Insurance Council and the insurance industry should come up with a minimum standard to cover these. We have to respond as an industry to this demand and the need of the society. Minimum cover for the disadvantaged and the HIV-positive will necessarily have to be offered and there should not be ground for increase in price or rejecting any case. Anything above the minimum will have to be gradually improved with build up of more experience".
Mr Hari Narayan also spoke about an exposure draft prepared by IRDA regarding coverage for disadvantaged persons and cover for HIV-positive for submission to the Supreme Court in connection with a litigation. That draft, he said, is looking at two issues-first, where does India stand with regard to insurance coverage for persons' disadvantaged one way or other? And secondly, where do we stand on providing cover for HIV-positive people?
However, this is not exactly what the Forum was looking for. They want a level playing field with those who have no disability. The forum said that it is not asking for any subsidy and emphasized that many disabled are earning and need insurance to cover their family against risks (life, health, etc), just like others in the society. They want equal footing because as per them, "Disability by itself does not entail any higher risk of life or limb as compared to non-disabled, the disabled are not at all more likely to die early, either due to disease or accident. No empirical study corroborates the fallacious argument advanced by agents and officers of various insurance companies in unduly denying the disabled their legitimate claims".
As their articulate representative Kanchan Pamnani said, "I am no more likely to fall down a flight of stairs than anyone else, and I am just as capable of providing for myself and my family as anyone else". Mr Hari Narayan agreed and clarified that the minimum cover applied to the HIV-positive group and not in the context of other disadvantaged group.
Here is the memorandum submitted by Suhas Karnik and Kanchan Pamnani of Blind Graduates Forum of India to IRDA Chairman:
The Chairman Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority
Sub: removing undue discrimination towards persons with disabilities in the insurance sector
We are a non-government non-profit organization working for the empowerment of the visually-challenged for the last 25 years. We are indeed thankful to you and think ourselves honoured as you have granted audience to us.
As persons with disabilities including the visually-challenged form an integral part of society and are equally, nay more in the need of insurance services, we wish to submit a few points for your kind perusal, considered and considerate action:
1. Your honour would appreciate the fact that visually-challenged, i.e. persons with blindness or low vision along with other persons with disabilities, are engaged in various vocations and activities and are trying their best to lead meaningful and productive life in society. However, their stake in many life activities is often made more perilous by societal attitudes and negative bias toward persons with disabilities in general. So, they like all others try to insure themselves and their family members against various risks including early death. It is in fitness of things that their insurance needs are duly catered to by the insurers on equal footing with others. However, it is precisely this which many insurance companies often do not do under the garb of risk assessment.
2. We have been receiving a steady flow of aggrieved persons who have been denied their legitimate insurance needs often arbitrarily due to their disability by various insurance providers under your jurisdiction including LIC. The main complaints of the aggrieved chiefly relate to:
A) Outright denial: Certain policies are denied to them on the ground that they are disabled, blind, and so do not form an acceptable subject for insurance. The policies denied mainly include joint policies, marital policies, mediclaim policies and even sometimes life insurance for the disabled person.
B) Charging extra premium: Even when sometimes the policy is given, the premium charged is higher than that for non-disabled on the ground that disability constitutes higher medical risk for death.
C) Lower sum ensured: At other times, even after charging higher premia, the sum insured for disabled is substantially lower than that for non disabled. When extra premium is not charged, the disabled gets lower sum insured for same premium as compared to the non-disabled, the same discrimination in different disguise.
D) No risk cover: More often than not, the disabled including the blind are flatly denied any extra risk cover due to accident or disease which is normally made available to non-disabled in various policies. This is based on the faulty presumption of greater risk necessarily resulting from disability.
All these practices may not reach up to you as on the ground level, the agents or at most development officers refuse all these genuine demands and that too without showing any relevant guidelines or notifications issued by insurance company, let alone IRDA.
Often, the policy is rejected orally without even furnishing any written reply even when the applicant demands it.
We can furnish documentary evidence in a few instances where the applicant perseveres enough, should your honour so desire.
3. Your honour would clearly appreciate that disability by itself does not entail any higher risk of life or limb as compared to non-disabled; the disabled are not at all more likely to die early either due to disease or accident. No empirical study corroborates the fallacious argument advanced by agents and officers of various insurance companies in unduly denying the disabled their legitimate claims.
4. The matter has been earlier taken up with LIC by some NGOs. However, LIC has flatly denied any such happenings in the letter issued by their executive director to the NAB (National Association of the Blind) on 18 May 2007. It clearly indicates that the insurance providers are not at all aware of undue discrimination happening with persons with disabilities. The executive director further went on to say that LIC does not discriminate with persons with disabilities in any way; however, he has not been able to provide any clear cut directions by LIC prohibiting the discrimination which is quite rampant.
5. Your honour would definitely appreciate that the Constitution of India confers the right of equality before law and equal protection of laws to all citizens, including persons with disabilities. This right clearly implies that there should not be any undue discrimination against persons with disabilities including blind when it comes to affording them insurance cover. Pre existing disease may constitute extra risk in insurance parlance, but disability cannot be equated with disease and the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, clearly defines disabilities and mandates equal treatment to persons with disabilities in all walks of life including all services.
6. The United Nations has adopted an international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities which also talks of equal, accessible and non-discriminatory services to all persons with disabilities. UNCRPD mandates, in Article 25 that the states parties shall …. "(e) Prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of health insurance, and life insurance where such insurance is permitted by national law, which shall be provided in a fair and reasonable manner".
Recently, the Delhi High Court struck down one such arbitrary policy by the Postal Life Insurance wherein they were charging higher premium from disabled and also restricting sum assured to Rs1 lakh instead of normally available Rs5 lakh.
All this amply demonstrates that the various insurance providers in India are unduly discriminating against persons with disabilities including blind. Such discrimination is based on the patently false premise that the persons with disabilities are at a higher risk and so constitute an unviable target of insurance. This premise stands uncontrovertibly refuted by various studies and there is not even a single study supporting such presumptions on the part of insurance providers. Further, international and national legal provisions do clearly require that such discrimination in insurance should be done away forthwith.
Such discrimination in banking has already been prohibited by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by issuing binding circulars to all the banks way back in 2008, which mandates that all the banking services be provided to blind customers on equal basis with others. Disability or blindness should be taken into account only relevantly at the time of providing services at par with others. It is high time that the august body like IRDA issue a general circular to all the insurance providers clearly instructing them not to discriminate against persons with disabilities, specially blind and low-vision individuals, in any manner while providing insurance in matters including but not limited to, availability of various policies, premia to be paid, amount insured, risk and other covers, etc.
We sincerely pray your honour to kindly consider issuing such a notification which would immensely benefit the already marginalized community of blind and visually-challenged customers who desire to avail insurance like all others.
The government said there no information available as regards distortion of real estate due to presence of terror-funds or black money in the real estate sector
New Delhi: The Indian government on Friday said 'no specific instance' of flow of terror funds into the real estate sector has come to its notice, reports PTI.
"As per the current assessment of revenue intelligence agencies...no specific instance of flow of terror funds into the real estate sector has been found," Minister of State for Finance SS Palanimanickam said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.
However, he said, "investigations by the Income Tax Department reveal unaccounted or undisclosed income or assets in various sectors of the economy, including real estate."
The intelligence agencies, which carried out the assessment, include Investigation Directorates of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Directorate General of Central Excise Intelligence and Directorate of Enforcement.
To another query, the minister said there no information was available as regards distortion of real estate due to presence of terror-funds or black money in the real estate sector.
Palanimanickam further said the I-T Department takes several punitive and deterrent steps to unearth unaccounted money and curb tax evasion.
These include scrutiny of tax returns; surveys, search and seizure actions; imposition of penalty; and launching of prosecution in appropriate cases, he said.
The Minister said information technology is used in a "systematic" way for collection and collation of information to take anti-evasion action against tax evaders.
The investigation wing of the CBDT probes cases whenever any credible information about evasion of direct taxes is received.