Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just a reminder

This road sign is almost all that is available today to remind us about what was once a leading insurance company of Madras. Leading not necessarily in terms of business, but in terms of heart, more often than not. 

Prithvi Insurance Company was founded in 1943 by S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. Its main office of business was most likely at Kondi Chetty Street in George Town, where the Prithvi Insurance Building today houses City Branch 1 of the LIC of India. Parthasarathy Iyengar was a deeply religious man and very soon, Prithvi Insurance was being run by T.S. Swaminathan who was one of the first Indians to be admitted to the Institute of Actuaries, London. As with most insurance companies at that time, Prithvi was into both general and life insurance. The general insurance business did very well and turned in profits; the life insurance business was another matter altogether. Prithvi was a large-hearted insurer, going so far as to partially sponsor the cost of hospital stay for policy holders who had been struck with tuberculosis. Prithvi claimed that the losses of the life insurance business should be set off against the profits of the other business lines, a claim that the Income Tax department contested - and it was decided in Prithvi's favour by the Madras High Court, in 1963 and finally upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966, 10 years after Prithvi's businesses were nationalised.

Prithvi also treated its staff very well. The company picked up a large tract of land in Ambattur in the late 1940s and converted that into housing plots for its junior and middle level staff. A house of roughly 400 sft, on a one-ground (2400 sft) plot, was sold for Rs.5,000/-, with a scheme to make that payment through monthly payroll deductions. That area continues to be known as Prithvipakkam, though the original houses are probably long gone. It is quite likely that a similar scheme was used to allow their senior officers to own houses off St Mary's Road; again, a large area of land was bought and carved up into plots. Today, there are two sets of flats for LIC's officers on Prithvi Avenue. Surely at least some of the residents there would remember the Prithvi legacy!

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