Mumbai: In Hindu mythology, Ganesh—the elephant-headed god—is worshipped as the remover of obstacles, and must be invoked before the start of any good work. But his devotees, who start a 12-day festival dedicated to their deity from Saturday, are not taking any chances.
In Mumbai and Pune, where the celebrations are among the most elaborate of the entire country, organizers of the larger Ganesh Utsavs, as each neighbourhood tableaux with Ganesha idols that range from the modest to the massive are called, have taken out insurance covers of as much as Rs 50 crore.
The amount, they say, will cover such eventualities such as terror attacks, stampedes—to which such large public gatherings are particularly susceptible—fire and natural disasters, as well as payments for victims should any of the above circumstances come to pass.
It is fast emerging as a lucrative business opportunity for general insurance companies as organizers look to secure themselves against a growing number of contingencies.
Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati of Pune and Lalbaugcha Raja of Mumbai, two of the oldest and most famous establishments in Maharashtra, last year saw crowds of 1.2 million and 12 million, respectively.
While the former started buying insurance only last year after the police raised concerns of terror attacks and stampedes, Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal has been protecting itself since 2007.
“Under the insurance cover, all visitors will get a personal accident cover of up to Rs 5 lakh, while the puja will have a separate cover against fire, terror attack, natural calamities and other unforeseen damages,” said Shashikant Dabhade, accountant, Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganpati Trust, which has purchased insurance cover of Rs 50 crore from state-owned New India Assurance Co. Ltd for a one-time premium of Rs 4.56 lakh.
The cover will also include visitors to cultural programmes organized by the trust in Pimpri-Chinchwad, a Pune suburb that is home to a number of auto industry employees, on the eve of the celebration.
The 77-year-old Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, however, has bought a cover of Rs 5 crore from New India Assurance. In 2008, it was insured for Rs 3.75 crore by private sector non-life insurer Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd. It shifted to New India Assurance last year and the cover was Rs 4 crore, said Sudhir Salvi, secretary at Lalbaugcha Raja.
“For the mandap (structure housing the idol), we have a Rs 3 crore insurance while for the devotees it is Rs 2 crore. We have paid premium of Rs 1.57 lakh to New India Assurance for the cover,” Balasaheb Kamble, joint secretary at Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal said in Marathi. He added that there is no insurance for the 14ft-tall idol itself. “We are capable of handling the security and the costs.”
Though the amount is lower than several others in the city, committee members said the trust that organizes the event has adequate reserves to cover damages and personal liabilities in case the costs exceed the sum assured.
The GSB Seva Mandal near Sion Fort in Mumbai has also bought an insurance cover of nearly Rs 50 crore this year, up from around Rs 10 crore last year from New India Assurance.
“The public liability cover is around Rs 20 crore for the GSB Seva Mandal Puja. The rest of the cover includes gold jewellery, public liability, trustees and volunteers’ safety, personal accident, fire, terrorism and so on,” said an official at New India Assurance on condition of anonymity.
Indeed, both cities have reason to be cautious.
In November 2008, Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, came to a grinding halt as terrorists attacked a bar popular with Western tourists, two hotels, and a synagogue with automatic weapons and bombs, and took control of the iconic Taj Palace Hotel downtown for three days, killing 166 people during their rampage.
In July 2005, Mumbai was paralysed after a freak downpour of more than 900mm in a single day flooded the city, disrupting all manners of transport and leaving large groups of people stranded, and killing around 1,500 people.
And on 13 February this year in Pune, a bomb destroyed the German Bakery, a hot spot for Western tourists in this town known more for its large population of retirees and a thriving auto and information technology industry, killing nine people.
As the risks increase, so do the premiums.
Most of the insurance covers provided this year have been by state-owned insurers, as they are said to charge lower premiums than private sector insurers.
“Some of the trustees had approached us for an insurance cover, but they could not afford the premium quoted by us. So, they opted for an insurance from a public sector company,” said an official at a large privately-held general insurance firm on condition of anonymity.