People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 52

December 27, 2009

LIC Agents Hold Protest Rally, Dharna in Mumbai

 

P R Kishnan

 

AZAD MAIDAN in South Mumbai witnessed, on December 4, one of the biggest protest rallies and dharnas in the recent period. This was one by the agents working for the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) and organised by the LIC Agentsí Organisation of India (LICAOI). An estimated 10,000 LIC agents took part in this protest action. Coming from different parts of India, these agents converged in the Azad Maidan, very close to the LIC headquarters called the Yogakshema.

The aim of the rally and demonstration was to press for the long pending demands of the LIC agents and to prevent the process of privatisation of this giant public sector insurance corporation. The main demands of the LIC agents were as below:

1) Withdrawal of the LIC Amendment Bill 2009, Insurance Amendment Bill 2008, Agentís Regulations 1972 and Revised Club Rules.

2) Scrapping of the Swarup committee report.

3) Giving up direct marketing by the LIC.

4) Implementation of the demands agreed upon earlier.

5) Ensured job security for the agents.

6) Introduction of a pension welfare fund and mediclaim for the agents.

7) Protection for the bonus paid to the policyholders.

8) Reduction in the interest on policy loans.

The protesting LIC agents began pouring into the Maidan in small groups and processions, with flags and banners in their hands. In fact, a majority of them had come a day earlier from different zones, states and union territories. By 11 a m, the portion of the Maidan separately allotted by the police for the LIC agentsí dharna, became full. But when the flow continued, the police had to open the enclosure and allow the participants to occupy the space adjoining the allotted area. The proceedings of the meeting began with a welcome address by C A Joseph, vice president of the LIC Agentsí Organisation, while S S Potti (the LICAOI working president) who presided. Basudev Acharya, MP, was to inaugurate the programme but he could not reach Mumbai as he was required to be in Delhi to attend a meeting convened by the prime minister. In his absence, K L Bajaj (president, CITUís Maharashtra state committee) inaugurated the programme.

Though it is December when it is supposed to be wintry in Mumbai, the climate on the day was unusual and extremely hot. Yet, unmindful of the scorching sun, the protesters sat on the tarpaulins in the Maidan, listening to their leaders. The protesting demonstrators were addressed by leaders from different states and zones. Among them were P G Dileep (general secretary, LICAOI) N R Thevethara (former MP), Somnath Bhattacharyam (secretary) L Manjunath (secretary), R P Bharadwaj (vice president), M Selwaraj (secretary), and Ajit Bhawan Ghosh (vice president of the organisation). As per the organisersí estimation, the number of participants in this action programme was approximately 10,000. Quite a substantial number of them were women.

The Mumbai rally and dharna, which had the character of an all-India action programme of the LIC agents, became necessary because of the retrograde measures the LIC management is contemplating for ultimately privatising this insurance giant. Therefore the organisers thought it necessary to select Mumbai, which houses the LIC headquarters, as the most appropriate venue to stage their action programme which received wide publicity and media coverage here.

One may note here that it was in 1956 that the government brought under its control a myriad of private insurance companies, which were daily perpetuating frauds upon their policyholders, and formed the Life Insurance Corporation of India in the public sector. At that time, there were 245 private life insurance companies and, because of the greed of their managements, the policyholders were not able to get or recover their maturity amounts before nationalisation. The policyholders, their families and legal heirs were thus subjected to great hardships. It was this era of instability and insecurity which nationalisation of these insurance companies brought an end to.

The total assets of these private insurance companies at the time of their nationalisation and amalgamation into one holding company, i.e. Life Insurance Corporation of India, in 1956 was Rs five crore only. However, the assets of this premier institution have now reached up to Rs nine lakh crore, apart from a separate Life Fund of Rs 8,50,000 crore. The total number of policyholders is 25 crore and 78 lakh at present, while the number of business canvassing agents is 13 lakh and 30 thousand. (Out of them, 2,80,000 agents are full-fledged members of the LIC Agentsí Organisation of India.) This is the biggest life insurance company in the world and, that too, in the public sector. The government is utilising the funds of this giant institution for several developmental activities.

Now, it is this megalithic institution that the UPA government is now trying to dismantle. Its purpose, not so secret, is to help the private sector insurance companies. Once the two bills now proposed by the government are passed by the parliament, the present agents on whose toil and moil the assets of LIC has grown from Rs five crore in 1956 to Rs nine lakh crore with a life separate fund of Rs 8,50,000 crore, will lose their renewal commissions as well as hereditary family commissions. In addition, if the Swarup committee report is implemented, no commission will be required to be paid to the agents by the corporation, thus jeopardising the livelihood of about 9.8 lakh self-employed LIC agents. The proposal is that they must collect the commission directly from the policyholders, as is the practice in the developed countries. This too is an example, along with many others, of the anti-people policies of the government. It is to prevent such anti-people measures that the LIC agents organised their all-India protest dharna in Mumbai.

In accordance with its working class spirit, the LIC Agentsí Organisation had sent out invitations to all the central trade union organisations in Maharashtra for support and solidarity. Accordingly, a number of trade union organisations deputed their leaders to greet the agitating demonstrators. Among them were Suryakant Bagtal (general secretary, Hind Mazdoor Sabha), Sayeed Ahmed (secretary, CITU), H I Bhatt (zonal secretary, AIIEA) and Sharad Nanal (president, AIIEA Mumbai region).

One of the mention-worthy features of the programme on the day was the release of a magazine of the LIC agents. This new publication is captioned LICAOI Voice. S S Potti (working president of the organisation) released this magazine by handling over a copy to Maharashtra state CITU secretary P R Krishnan who was a member of the organising committee for the Mumbai programme of dharna and demonstration. Somnath Bhattacharya Sunjit Bose, C Krishnan Kuty, B P Bharadwaj, Anjani Kumar Singh and P Unnithan (office bearers of the LIC Agentsí Organisation) are the editors of this publication.

After the dharna and demonstration, leaders of the organisation submitted a memorandum to the LIC chairman, demanding withdrawal of the anti-people steps being utilised. Through the memorandum, they also demanded implementation of the terms of understanding reached earlier between the management and the LIC Agentsí Organisation. The fact of the non-implementation of this agreement only shows that the government is adamant and unwilling to concede to the demands. But the LIC agents have now issued a warning that they would be forced to launch a powerful agitation if this attitude on the part of the government persists.