In October 2018, he noticed a sum of about Rs 1,900 had been deducted from his modest salary. He was told it was the first instalment of the premium for medical insurance that had been made mandatory for government employees in Kashmir.

“They never sought our consent,” said the government employee, who works in Kashmir’s education department, and only wanted to be identified as Ahmed. “Whether we wanted the medical insurance policy or not, nobody asked us.”

A few months later, the financial staff in the education department told him the insurance policy had been scrapped. “They just said that there was some scam in it and that the money was gone. There was no explanation,” he said.

The group medical insurance scheme, meant for nearly 4.5 lakh government employees and over 1 lakh government pensioners in Jammu and Kashmir, had been rolled out in September 2018.

The government had tied up with Anil Ambani’s Reliance General Insurance. The Rs 260 crore insurance scheme came into effect on October 1, 2018. That month, Rs 60 crore was paid as advance on the premium. But before the end of October, the government suddenly cancelled the scheme.

“Employees wanted it to be cancelled,” then Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik had said at the time. “There was some bungling. I read the entire file and when I reached the conclusion that something is wrong, it did not take me a minute to cancel it.”

Malik had claimed the expensive insurance contract was “full of frauds” and allotted in “haste”. “I can’t reveal everything to you at this point, but there are officials involved in it and they will be punished,” he had said in 2018.

Three years later, there has been no action against any official as the Jammu and Kashmir anti-corruption bureau decided there were “no irregularities” in the way the contract was handed out.

Malik, now governor of Meghalaya, has brought up the matter of corrupt deals in the Jammu and Kashmir government once again.

While his comments have drawn some attention in political circles, in Kashmir, government employees say they are still waiting for a refund of their premiums. “Our hard-earned money was never paid back,” Ahmed said.

A tale of two files

The insurance scheme was announced months after the government of what was then the state of Jammu and Kashmir collapsed. In June 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party had walked out of the coalition government led by the People’s Democratic Party and governor’s rule was established in the state.

Malik was installed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2018. A career politician, he had joined the BJP in 2004 before going on to fill the governor’s post in various states.

A year later, in August 2019, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was carved up into two Union Territories, headed by lieutenant governors. Soon afterwards, Malik was transferred out, first to Goa and then to Meghalaya as governor. Recently, he has become an outspoken critic of the BJP-led central government.

During a speech in Rajasthan this October, he claimed that he had been offered bribes worth Rs 300 crore to clear two files when he was governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

“After going to Kashmir, two files came to me, one belonging to Ambani and another to an RSS-affiliated man who was a minister in the previous Mehbooba Mufti-led government and claimed to be very close to the prime minister,” Malik said.

He continued: “I was informed by secretaries in both the departments that there is a scandal involved and I accordingly cancelled both the deals. The secretaries told me that ‘you will get Rs 150 crore each for clearing the files’ but I told them that I have come with five kurta-pajamas and will leave with that only.”

While Malik did not specify which deals he had cancelled, many believe one of them was the contract with Reliance General Insurance.

A probe and a report

Under the scheme, government employees were to pay a yearly premium of Rs 8,777. Government pensioners could pay Rs 22,229 a year, although the scheme was optional for them. They would get insurance coverage of up to Rs 6 lakh a year. It would cover the person paying the premium and any one of five dependent family members on a rotational basis.

From the start, government employees complained about the lack of transparency in the manner in which the scheme had been introduced. Soon it was rolled out, they filed a petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, challenging the insurance policy.

As the government cancelled the scheme in October 2018, a Reliance General Insurance spokesperson denied all allegations of fraud. The company had won the contract through an “open, transparent and competitive process in which seven insurers participated,” he claimed.

But the controversy became a source of embarrassment for the BJP, attacked by opposition parties in Kashmir for allegedly abetting corruption. The Kashmir-based People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference had also questioned the abrupt termination of the deal and asked for a further probe into the alleged fraud.

Soon after the scheme was scrapped, the Jammu and Kashmir anti-corruption bureau launched a probe into the allotment of the contract. In August 2020, a Right to Information application filed with the bureau revealed these two facts: the inquiry had found “no irregularities” in the contract and the bureau submitted its report to the Union Territory administration in November 2019, weeks after Malik was removed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

‘We want our money back’

Three years later, government employees say their premiums are yet to be returned. “Being a gazetted employee, an amount of Rs 6500 was debited from my account,” said Rafique Rather, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Employees Joint Action Committee, an amalgam of various employees’ groups in Kashmir. “In the case of non-gazetted employees, their premium was divided into four instalments, out of which one was debited from their salaries.”

Even though employees’ groups have raised the question of a refund several times, matters have not moved, they claim.

According to Rather, government employees in Jammu and Kashmir do not have any medical insurance cover at the moment. If employees fall ill they may produce bills for medical expenses and the government will reimburse them, albeit on certain terms and conditions. Rather claimed employees had even suggested to the state government – the coalition between the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party – that it introduce group medical insurance.

While the coalition government had paid no attention, the governor’s administration did – only to return with the controversial Reliance contract. “Things didn’t turn out to be the way they should have,” rued Rather. “In the midst of all this, the employees lost their hard-earned money for no fault of theirs.”

A senior government employee in the irrigation department, speaking off the record, said the administration showed no sign of paying back the premium. “If, by mistake, an employee is paid just a small amount extra with his salary, the government is quick to deduct that additional money from his salary the next month,” he remarked. “Here, the government doesn’t seem to be bothered. We want our money back. It’s our right.”

The Union Territory administration, for its part, distanced itself from the policy. “It’s an old matter,” said Atal Dulloo, financial commissioner and additional chief secretary in the Jammu and Kashmir government. “I don’t want to comment on this. You better talk to people who were associated with this policy.” also mailed questions to Reliance General Insurance, seeking their response about a refund to those who had paid the premium. This report will be updated as and when there is a response.