1. This is a claim by the widow of one Promotho Nath Basu and her minor son against the Modern India Life Insurance Co., Ltd., in respect of certain policies of insurance taken out by her husband. The policies were six in number and were for a total sum of Rs. 3,000. She claims this sum and interest. The only defence is that the plaintiffs have failed to fulfil certain conditions which formed part of the policies and were the basis of the contracts, but the only condition upon which the defendant company has relied at the hearing is that the plaintiffs failed to give reasonable evidence of the age of the assured at the time the policies were issued, and the contention put forward on behalf of the defendants really means, though evidence of age has been given of a person named Promotho Nath Basu, the plaintiffs have failed to identify that person with the assured.
2. The issue therefore which I have to try is whether the company acted unreasonably in refusing to pay the plaintiffs the sum claimed; that is to say, whether they ought or ought not to have accepted the evidence of age submitted to them on the part of the plaintiffs. Now on the claim being made by the plaintiffs, the company sent certain forms to them to be filled up and asked for certain documents: one was a certificate of identity, another was a certificate of death, and another was a certificate of the assured's employer, the fourth was an entry from the death register of the Municipality where the assured lived, and evidence of age was required. All this information was given. The certificate of identity was made in the presence of and signed by a Magistrate, and it is stated therein that the age of the assured was about 44. A medical certificate was given by the medical practitioner who was in attendance upon the assured when he died and again his age was stated as about 44. Similarly, with regard to the employer's certificate, it also gave his age. Further, the plaintiffs submitted a certificate from the Officiating Controller of Examinations of the Calcutta University in which it was stated that the person therein named Promotho Nath Basu passed the Matriculation Examination in the month of March 1911 and that his age was stated to be 20 years and 10 months in his application for permission to sit for the examination which was dated 13th January 1911.
3. The defendant company purported to be dissatisfied with all this evidence and certificate, as stated in their letter of 31st August 1935. With regard to the certificate from the University which they refer to as a statement, they requested the plaintiffs to submit the Matriculation Examination certificate or the name of the school from which the assured matriculated, with the date of matriculation. The matriculation certificate having been lost long ago, the plaintiffs had to fall back upon the secondary requisition made by the defendant company, and supplied the name of the school in which the assured matriculated which was all that they were asked to do. Having done so, the company then began making a series of further questions. They wanted to know where the school was. The plaintiffs' solicitors replied that everybody in Calcutta knew perfectly well that school had gone out of existence. Today counsel on behalf of the company has even gone further in taking a number of objections to the evidence submitted, doubtless upon the instructions of his clients, who in my opinion are concerned only with an attempt to delay payment of this just claim so long as they possibly can. With regard to the Matriculation certificate the only objection taken is that it is not in the same form as the original certificate granted to the assured, the answer to this being that the Senate of the University has decided not to issue such certificates in the same form as the original certificate to anybody claiming on behalf of a deceased person or to an insurance company interested in his estate. The certificate given in this case was the usual certificate given by the University to persons placed in the position of the plaintiffs. Another point was taken that the proposal form showed that the assured had signed the form in Calcutta whereas there was some not very reliable evidence to show that he was not in Calcutta at that time. I am at a loss to understand what importance can be placed upon the question whether he was in Calcutta or at any other place when the proposal was signed, and this point after occupying the time of the Court for some little time was abandoned. Another point taken in the letter of 31st August apparently was concerned with the question whether the assured was bald-headed or not. This also seemed to me to be of little importance and this also has been abandoned. Finally, counsel appearing for the defendant company, on instructions, objected to the whole of the documents and the correspondence and refused to admit them. Such an attitude is adopted only by a person or persons who desire to put as many difficulties as they possibly can in the way of a plaintiff, regardless of the fact that they are wasting the time of the Court. Later on the documents and the correspondence were admitted.
4. All these petty objections have been raised on behalf of the defendants in respect of the man who was their own medical officer, and appointed as such to deal with their business in Gourpore, and at the time when he applied for this post it was stated that he was then 42 years of age. Nevertheless, the defendants say that they are contesting this claim on a question of principle. I was somewhat at a loss to understand what the principle involved was, until I heard in the cross-examination of Mr. Saha, the only witness called for the defendants, that terms of settlement had been suggested by a Mr. Malay Banerjee, a son of one of the directors, Mr. Satish Chandra Banerjee, so far back as August 1935, in which it was suggested that payment should be accepted by instalments. Mr. Saha said that he had no knowledge of these offers, but Mr. Malay Banerjee, though I was informed that he was in Calcutta, has not been called on behalf of the defendants to contradict the suggestion which was made. But in addition to this statement, which was really only in the nature of a suggestion and was not evidence, Mr. Saha informed me that it was difficult to say whether his company was solvent in the year 1935, and further that it was in a 'little financial difficulty' in 1936. I asked him whether all other claims had been paid by his company at or about this time, and he said that he thought that more than one claim, at any rate, had been paid during that year.
5. The 'little financial difficulty' to which he referred arose apparently because the Government of India issued a notice on 21st April 1936 to the effect that it had been brought to the notice of the Governor-General in Council that continual default had been made by the Modern India Life Insurance Co., Ltd. in complying with the requirements of the Indian Life Assurance Companies Act, 1912, in particular in the failure although frequently called upon to do so, to deposit with the Controller of Currency Government securities as required by the provisions of the Act, and that by reason of such default the penalties and liabilities prescribed in Section 34 of the Act appeared to the Government of India to have been incurred by the company and by the officers of the company therein named. In view of these facts I am driven to think that the real reason for resisting the claim of these plaintiffs was that this company was in an embarrassed financial position at the time, and desired to put off as long as possible having to make any payment. The requirement that proof of age shall be given by an assured person is, of course, a reasonable requirement. The question is whether proof of age in this case had been given of such a character that the company ought to have been satisfied with it and ought to have considered it reasonable. 'With regard to that, I refer especially to the fact that the plaintiffs actually complied to the letter with the specific requirements made by the company. Even when that had been done, the company was not satisfied and put forward further enquiries.
6. Taking all these things into consideration I consider that the company ought to have been satisfied with the proof of age submitted on behalf of the plaintiffs. Owing to the fact that there is no general system of registration of births in this, country and the consequent difficulties about proof of age, I should have thought that it would have been better policy on the part of insurance companies in India to refuse to issue policies without proof of age, or else to require that proof of age shall be given within a limited time after the issuing of any policy. By this means these difficulties about proving age in India would be got rid of. I am well aware that this is not the custom in England, but the conditions there are different, and, as everybody knows, there is a complete system of registration of births and there is generally no difficulty in proving the age of any person. In these circumstances I am satisfied that the plaintiffs have proved their claim and their right to this money, and there must be a decree for Rs. 3,000 with interest at 6 per cent from 12th August 1935, and costs.