Abiding by the Bombay high court’s (HC) directions last year to improve safety measures during the Janmashtami festival, the Dahi Handi Samanvay Samiti (DHSS), the umbrella body of mandals, has approved a plan to provide a life cover of ₹10 lakh for each Govinda (member) in their team.
Last year, the court removed height restrictions on human pyramids and allowed participants as young as 14 years to take part.
“We had informed the HC last year that we would ensure that the safety of Govindas will not be compromised, which is why we came up with the idea to increase the insurance amount. Earlier, the insurance amount used to be around ₹2 lakh,” said Arun Patil, executive president, DHSS.
Patil said they had approached some political leaders and were able to get the insurance premium amount reduced to ₹75 per person, from ₹100 last year.
“It is important that each and every mandal understands and gets the insurance because after all, it is for the safety of the Govindas, which is why we as the Samanvay Samiti are approaching them with the idea,” Patil said.
Despite the HC’s safety guidelines for the festival, two people lost their lives, and 117 others were injured last year. The Samanvay Samiti had proposed a life insurance cover of ₹10 lakh for the 2017 festival but since the decision was taken only a few days before the event, most mandals could not purchase the insurance.
“Only 389 mandals got insurance last year because they had less than a week after the HC order was passed. But this year we are expecting at least 600 mandals to be insured. There have been times when 1,100 mandals across the state would get insurance because the premium amount was as low as ₹30 before 2016,” said Sachin Khanvilkar, assistant manager, The Oriental Insurance Company, which will provide the insurance service.
Khanvilkar added that the amount would cover the time frame from practice to the morning after the Dahi Handi festival. Usually, the mandals start getting insurance for their members from Guru Purnima till two days before the festival, which falls on September 3 this year.
“We have been getting Govinda insurance since the last 11 years. Some bigger mandals get insurance for 600 members, but so do smaller ones with at least 100 members,” Khanvilkar said.
While the increase in insurance will benefit Govindas who get injured during the event, the petitioner who had approached the courts, demanding restrictions on the height of human pyramids and age of participants, is apprehensive if the insurance amount would make the festival safer.
“There are instances when the cheque given by the organiser bounces. In that case, these people are left with nothing in hand. The HC had asked the state government to issue guidelines on height, but that hasn’t happened yet. It is necessary that safety measures (such as safety gear and mats) be followed by the organisers. If they are not followed, how will simply having a higher insurance amount help?” asked Swati Patil, secretary of NGO Utakarsh Mahila Samajik Sansthaa.