The FIR claimed that Dr Ashok Kumar had committed suicide. The newspapers carried the same news the following day. Hence the LIC refused to pay his claim amount. But his father Srinivas Rao and his brothers were unable to accept that their dear Ashok had killed himself as there was no reason for him to do it. He had no problems worrying him nor did he have any bad habits . . . . . 5 years later, the Consumer Court delivered the verdict, “LIC’s decision that Dr Ashok Kumar has committed suicide, is wrong. The court ordered LIC to pay the claim entitled to his family”
Dr Ashok Kumar hailed from the Yadyadi- Matyadi of Kundapur Taluk. He was the youngest of the four sons and three daughters of Sri Srinivas Rao. While his brothers and sisters were happily married and settled in their lives, 31 years old Ashok remained unmarried and this worried his father.
Gentle and soft natured Ashok was inclined to studies since childhood and had been popular with his teachers for his brightness in learning. Ashok wished to remain in his village and serve the society. As soon as he completed his MBBS degree, he applied for the government doctors’ job. In August 1997, he got the job in Kollur Primary Health Center.
Having no family of his own, he found for himself a small room on the second floor of Rama Krishna Yogashram close to his work place. The good natured Dr Ashok Kumar soon became a favourite among his colleagues and patients.
When the doctor did not come!
In the evening of the 13th March 1999, Dr. Ashok, who left for his room after visiting his neighbours, was not to be seen again. Since the next day was a Sunday nobody noticed his absence. When he did not return to work on Monday, his colleagues got worried. Since Ashok usually went home to see his father every weekend, they thought he might have prolonged his stay. But when he did not return on 16th March Tuesday also, his friends sensed that something was wrong.
Meanwhile, on the second floor of Ramakrishna Yogashram, a foul smell emanated from Dr. Ashok’s room. The room was locked from inside and the windows were closed. The supervisor of the lodging tried looking inside the room by moving a window pane and saw Ashok’s body lying on the bed. The family members were informed. The police, in the presence of the family broke open the door. Dr Ashok Kumar’s blackened and bloated dead body lay on his bed, apparently 3 days old. A police complaint was lodged in the Kollur Police Station that the doctor must have committed suicide for some reason by the looks of it. The same was recorded in the FIR as well as published in the newspapers the following day.
Was it really a suicide?
Ashok’s father and brothers were in shock and could not believe that he could have committed suicide. He had no problems to worry about nor did he have any bad habits and hence no reason to compel him to end his life.
The facts became crystal clear when Srinivar Rao received the Police Panchanama of his son’s death. It did not say the he had committed suicide. The last words of Panchanama stated “ . . . . . and the diary and tablets were found on the table. It had been mentioned in the diary that he had slipped and fallen while climbing the stairs and had suffered severe pain in the chest . We, the witnesses of this Panchanama unanimously opine that the deceased had died of severe chest pain or due to the severity of the tablets consumed for reducing the pain.” The report from the Pathology Department of Manipal Hospital said, “Since the tissues are autolysed no opinion is possible”
LIC policy cancelled
Srinivas Rao heaved a sigh of relief on knowing that it was not suicide. Few days later, he discovered from the documents that Ashok had taken two insurance policies. He enquired as to how the policy sum could be claimed.
Meanwhile they received a letter from LIC which said, “As the insured has not paid the premium installments of Policy number 620775807, the policy has lapsed. You may send the duly completed claim form to claim the amount under the policy of Rs. 1 lakh taken in 1999. As the nominee under the policy was the elder brother of Ashok Kumar, Mr. Venkataramana, the claim form was filled up and sent to claim the amount.
On 7-10-1999, Mr. Venkataramana received a letter from LIC stating, “As your brother has committed suicide within one year of the policy, the said policy stands cancelled, and we are unable to settle the insurance amount in your favour.”
Mr. Venkataramana immediately wrote a protest letter to the Senior Divisional Manager of LIC, “I would like to know how you have concluded that my brother has committed suicide. The medical reports state that it is not possible to ascertain the cause of death. The witnesses to the Panchanama also opine that it is not a suicide” and demanded to know grounds of LIC’s decision for rejection of the claim.
He marked a copy of the letter to Consumers Forum, Basrur, requesting them to support him in his fight against LIC’s injustice.
Is a news puclication proof enough?
LIC Divisional Manager replied in his letter dated 18-11-1999, “It was published in the newspaper that it might be a suicide. Hence we decided that it must be a suicide and the insurance amount has been rejected. . . . .However, please send the Police B Final report to once again verify the cause of death.”
It was surprising that LIC had taken news publication as the base of its decision. The members of the Investigation Committee of the Forum carefully studied each document of the case.
What more proof is required?
In the third page of the Post- Mortem Report, the cause of death was specifically recorded. Readers may please observe the following sentence carefully.
“. . . . . A diary of the deceased, in which he had recorded his daily routine up to 13th March, is found. The writing is identified to be the hand writing of the deceased. On March 13th it has been recorded in green ink, ‘Today when I was climbing the stairs to my room after dinner, I slipped and got hit to the railing, which caused severe, unbearable pain in my chest. I fear I may not survive. If at all I do, I’ll see you soon, or else I bid you all adieu.’ The diary has been seized for further action.”
When all the documents are stating that the death had been caused due to injury to the chest by hitting to the railings, when the deceased himself has expressed the same in his diary, it was intriguing why LIC had taken an adverse decision. The forum thought that the Senior DM of LIC may change his decision after verification of these reports.
Now, Dr Ashok Kumar’s family tried to obtain the final report from the District Magistrate. The police were requested to send the report directly to the LIC.
On 23-12-1999 the Sub Inspector of Kollur Police Station wrote a detailed letter to the Branch Manager of LIC and stated in clear terms as below.
“Though it was stated in the FIR, that Dr. Ashok Kumar had committed suicide, this was recorded only based on the written complaint of some unconcerned, unrelated, ill informed third parties who had not seen the corpse. Moreover, nowhere during the investigation was the opinion formed that it was a suicide...” The Final Report of the Magistrate was also attached with this letter to the LIC.
On 31-12-1999 Mr. Srinivas Rao personally submitted one more copy of the Final Report to the Branch Manager of Kundapur. A certificate as to the confirmation that Dr. Ashok had not availed any Medical Leave from 18-08-1997 to 15-03-1999 was sent along requesting him to settle the insurance amount of his son. The Branch manager said the letter would be forwarded to their Divisional Office, Udupi who would send their replies.
Analysis of the Final Report
The Investigation committee of Consumers Forum, Basrur studied the final report of the District Magistrate of Kundapur. The last paragraph of the report contained, “ A Post-Mortem examination has been conducted to identify the exact cause of the death of Dr Ashok Kumar. . . . . The Medical Officer Byndoor gave the final opinion regarding cause of Death…. After considering the medico legal autopsy and expert opinion of the forensic expert of Manipal Medical College and Regional Forensic Laboratory, it is not possible to ascertain the cause of death.” When the experts themselves were unable to specify the cause of death, the deceased himself had recorded in his diary that he hit to the iron rod and was injured, what other proof did the LIC need? Should the dead rise from his ashes to convince LIC?
All these details were submitted by the Forum to the Sr. DM of LIC, Udupi and the Zonal Manager, Hyderabad, demanding settlement of the insurance amount to Mr. Venkataramana. Even after nine months of this letter LIC neither paid the amount nor informed why they are not paying. At last, a suit was filed against LIC, in the District Consumer Court.
Suit in the Court
Court investigated the case for about 3 years. LIC argued as below,
“Dr Ashok Kumar consumed the tablet Lynoxin, meant for heart disease. There should have been 30 tablets in the bottle found in his room. There were only 8 tablets in it. Hence we decided that he must have consumed the rest of the tablets. As the news item in the local daily also stated that Dr Ashok had committed suicide, we did not settle the claim.”
The Court rejected the argument of LIC, “Just because there are only 8 tablets left in the bottle, it cannot be concluded that he had at once consumed all the 22 tablets. It is also not proved that the death is caused by the over dosage of the lynoxin tablets. There was a possibility to find out when these tablets were purchased by Dr. Ashok Kumar. LIC has also failed to do so. The explanation that the claim was rejected based on the news item does not hold good. When the PMR also concludes that “The cause of death can not be ascertained” one can not conclude that it is a death by accident nor a suicide. Therefore, LIC is hereby ordered to pay the claimant the sum insured of Rs. 1 lac plus interest at the rate of 10 % on the sum from the date of death till the date of payment. The LIC should also pay Rs. 500/- being the cost of the legal suit.
At last, after FIVE YEARS of the death of his son Sri Srinivas Rao could receive the sum of the LIC policy of his son. Was it right to make this grieving old man struggle for 5 long years for his entitlement?
Mr. Srinivas Rao laments, reading his son’s diary writing of 13 March, again and again, that he could not render any help when he was breathing his last.
(translated from 'Bahujana Hitaaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag)