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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Earthquake claimed 2 lives in Chennai, so says Govt data

A claim has to be established with supporting documents and much reliance is placed on documents issued by Govt. Authorities – for an accidental loss, Insurers would ask for FIR; for a Fire loss – the Fire Brigade report; for claim arising out of flood / storm – report of Met Office and Earthquake losses –  again report of Govt agencies – though many a times, Insurers would consider incidents widely reported in Press and circumstantial evidence too……

Be it a Government Office or Private – lot now runs on statistics, analysis and strategy – so much of importance on data, recording of the past, analyzing them and deciding on strategies for the future.  Besides the data, there is so much reliance is placed on Govt. records – the various records maintained at Govt Departments and the reports that they make public either specific or in common. 

It was a Wednesday in April this year, 11th of April 2012 to be specific – Chennaites experienced tremors, most discernible at places, panic gripped as people ran out of their offices and collected at Streets; - many could feel   some movement, sort of shaking of the ground under the feet.  Immediately thereafter, those inside the offices realized and as afterthought started moving outside their premises and gathered on roads and infront of building.  There was some fear, though not many exhibited the same.  News reports suggested that a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off the West coast of Northern Sumatra in Indonesia and there was tsunami warning issued to over there.  Cell phone services were affected in Chennai unable to cater to the congestion.

Eventually, it turned to be a minor one – no damages, nor deaths were reported and people soon were back doing their normal work.

Chennai has not been affected by Earthquakes in the recent past and there have not been any casualties………… But, the Govt records it otherwise, according to a newsitem published in New Indian Express of date [10th July 12]..the report mentions of a  major goof-up by the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) which  has  given Chennai the dubious distinction of being the only major city in the country listed with deaths due to earthquake in the NCRB 2011 data, even though no temblor of high intensity has ever been recorded in the city.

While the blunder has raised questions on the accuracy of the information itself, officials now attribute it to a “typographical error”, where deaths due “electrocution” have been listed wrongly as those from “earthquakes”.  The statistics pertaining to accidental deaths in the NCRB data has two categories — deaths due to natural and unnatural causes. Under the former, all fatalities that have natural causes such as cyclones, earthquakes, lightning and so on are listed gender-wise and on geographical basis based on the figures given by the respective SCRBs.  A perusal of the NCRB data for 2011 revealed that two persons had died in Tamil Nadu due to earthquakes, with both incidents reported in Chennai city. In fact, Chennai was the only one among 52 major cities to record such an incident.

When contacted, the officials at the seismology wing of the meteorological department, immediately dismissed the claims.  “A minimum intensity of 6 on the Richter scale is necessary if at all any widespread damage is to occur. The city has not had any such high intensity temblor in the past decade,” a senior officer is quoted as saying.  The reply was the same when Express contacted the disaster management wing of the Revenue Department, where officials said it wouldn’t require an expert to reject the data of the NCRB.

It is then stated that the data was the result of a “typographical error” where the respective police station had slated the death as from “earthquake” rather than “electrocution”. However, given the fact that the NCRB data is used for a variety of purposes, including, research and certain policy decisions, like those pertaining to intervention in farmer suicides, such errors raised questions on the accuracy of the data.

Will that sound a trigger the next time you process a claim based on a document !!!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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