Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to pay insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh each to the widows of two firemen who died in November 2018 while trying to rescue three persons from a well and refused to accept the state’s decision denying insurance and ex-gratia on the ground that the deceased were intoxicated at the time of their death.
The high court noted that the state government and the Directorate of Insurance had not considered all factors before rejecting insurance and ex-gratia payment and said this would have a cascading effect on others performing their duties.
A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Madhav Jadhav passed its order on May 6, a copy of which was made available on Friday, on the petition filed by two women — Deepa Wagchaude and Anjali Shelar — challenging the state government’s decision denying insurance and ex-gratia to their husbands.
The petitioners’ husbands — Pramod Wagchaude and Anant Shelar — were firemen with the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation (KDMC). They died in November 2018 while trying to rescue three persons who had fainted while cleaning a well.
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When the duo entered the well, they also fell unconscious due to toxic gas and were later declared dead at the hospital. They were later granted the status of a martyr by the KDMC.
According to the petition, the duo had an insurance cover of around Rs 11 lakh under the Group Personal Accident Insurance Policy of the Government Insurance Fund, taken out by the deputy chief fire officer of the KDMC.
The Directorate of Insurance, however, rejected the insurance claims, as the presence of alcohol was found in the post-mortem reports of the duo.
In 2020, the state government also refused to approve the duo’s ex-gratia payments on the ground that they were purportedly under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of their death.
The bench, however, refused to accept this contention and noted that when Anant and Pramod were pulled out of the well and taken to the hospital, they were covered in a stinking black fluid. The cause of death of the firemen and the three persons who were cleaning the well was asphyxia with drowning.
“It is pertinent to note that the ‘ethyl alcohol’ was also seen in the viscera report of even the three persons who had fallen unconscious due to poisonous gases in the well and had succumbed. The contents of alcohol were almost similar in each of the five reports, which is highly improbable,” the court said.
The bench further noted that lab tests also showed that even the well water contained ethyl alcohol.
“Therefore, it is clearly evident that the petitioners’ husbands succumbed to the toxic gases and fluids found in the well and as such, there was no justification for the State to reject the petitioners’ claim under the Group Personal Accident Insurance Policy,” the order said.
“The petitioners’ husbands answered their call of duty, which was to rescue/save the lives of the three persons, who were lying unconscious in the well. The petitioners’ husbands without batting an eyelid, went forward, only to succumb to the toxic gases and fluids in the well,” it said.
The bench noted that it was unfortunate that the authorities did not consider all the factors from its proper perspective.
“This will have a cascading effect on others performing similar duties. The petitioners’ husbands gave their lives to save others and in spite of them being given a ‘martyr’s status, the petitioners are being denied ex-gratia payment under the insurance claim,” it said.
The court directed the government to pay the amount within eight weeks to the petitioners.