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Why insurers should worry about Bluelines

Bob Dylan’s most famous song have the lyrics that were ready for Delhi’s killer Bluelines and the administrators who seem to go round and round without delivering much, writes N Madhavan.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2007 19:15 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

How many times must a man look up/ Before he can see the sky?/ Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have/ Before he can hear people cry?/ Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows/ That too many people have died? Bob Dylan, Blowing in the Wind

American urban folk singer Bob Dylan’s most famous song have the lyrics that were ready for Delhi’s killer Blueline buses and the administrators who seem to go round and round without delivering much.

The death count this year is 96, but there is not enough outrage yet on the streets of Delhi, where, for inexplicable reasons, people hold marches vigils for a fashion model killed in a restaurant shootout but not ordinary citizens who become victims of their own government’s public transport policy.

While the High Court pushes a lackadaisical government into action, and we wait for politicians to turn clean and strong, I wonder if there is somebody to take note of the killer buses manned by untrained, insensitive staff and owners who do not seem to care, and an administration that is slow to act.

I think insurance companies should be most worried. A risky road regime means more insurance claims that would eat into the returns of insurance companies. For these companies, public safety is good business.

So, if was a senior executive at ICICI Prudential, Tata AIG or Life Insurance Corporation, I would be worried.

Years ago, I had heard about how Tamil Nadu’s TVS group would offer money to street urchins who would go and pick up nails lying on state roads. This would actually cut costs for bus service operators in a preventive way.

I think insurers can do the same by funding campaigns and studies that boost road safety and public safety. It would make much more sense for an insurance company to fund NGOs or legal activists than wait for risk data that would increase their premium payments. This can also help insurers build their brands and customer relationships.

I am also veering around to the view that lawyers can start contacting victims of Blueline mishaps to pressure the government and bus owners for compensation claims.

After the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, many American lawyers turned up to help victims — not as a social service, but to get a cut out of the compensation money after suing Union Carbide, the company whose plant caused the poisonous gas leak.

Such lawyers were pejoratively called “ambulance chasers” but I think they have their utility. If a lawyer can invest some time and money to help a victim’s family and get into a nice cut from the compensation, it might just help. Pressures of litigation and the threat of loss of profits can move people to act.

I do believe the long-term solution lies in a public transport system in which rival companies can run branded services under a regulated regime that fixes and monitors tariffs, quality of services, routes and punctuality. To push Delhi’s administrators and indifferent bus owners, new pressure points need to be identified. Insurers and lawyers must join this cause.