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Tagore Nobel insurance claim caught in haggling

india Updated: Nov 28, 2007 02:18 IST
Avijit Ghosal

Trust an insurance company to haggle over a claim, even if the item in question is Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal.

It’s been more than three years since Rabindra Bhavan filed the claim, Rs 1.60 crore — Rs 1,59,72,000 to be exact — for what they consider is the “pride of the nation”. But they are still waiting because National Insurance Company (NIC) thinks it’s too high. After rounds of deliberations and calculations, the amount quoted was Rs 80 lakh.

Tagore won the Nobel for literature in 1913. His medallion, among other items of personal use, was stolen from Santiniketan's Rabindra Bhavan museum on March 23-25, 2004. The authorities had filed a claim five days later at NIC's Suri branch in Birbhum district.

Museum officials had filed a total claim (150401/46/03/ 7500002) of Rs 2.39 crore. Rabindra Bhavan also paid an annual premium of Rs 98,905 to NIC towards fire and burglary insurance.

More than three years later, a team of four NIC officials led by the chief regional manager visited the director of Rabindra Bhavan on August 24. They suggested a final settlement of Rs 95 lakh — the Rs 15 lakh is for the other items.

NIC officials offered that even in the absence of a final police report, which is a constraint, the company is agreeable to "an on-account settlement against indemnity bond".

Uddhav Chandra Roy, the Suri branch manager, who was present in the meeting said: "Visva-Bharati has to reach an acceptable figure for the emotional value else it is not possible to say when the claim will be settled."

Rabindra Bhavan officials, however, have made it clear that such an offer is unacceptable and requested the NIC officials that they must treat the Nobel medallion as “a unique unprecedented event, which shouldn't be calculated in terms of the rulebook”.

Rabindra Bhavan authorities have been trying to educate NIC about the emotional value of the insured items over the past two years.

In a letter to the company on August 20, 2005, the director of Rabindra Bhavan said: “We contacted directors of national and other museums and came to know that as there are no stipulated rules to evaluate sentimental and material value of famed items, notional value is determined for holdings of a museum."

But these arguments didn't seem to cut much ice with the NIC. While the insurance company has rejected Rabindra Bhavan’s valuation and refused payment, the Tagore museums housed in the building are desperate for funds.

Special officer, Nilanjan Banerjee said: "We need the funds for urgent repair, modernisation and preservation of items that form an integral part of the nation's cultural heritage."

In 1936 when Tagore was 75, Visva-Bharati was faced with acute financial crunch and the poet, fighting failing health, toured north India with a dance troupe to raise funds. Mahatma Gandhi was furious when he came to know about this and arranged Rs 60,000 for him, and extracted a promise that he would never undertake such tours again.

Crisis, say Rabindra Bhavan officials, is no stranger to Visva-Bharati. But insult definitely is.