India also needs a Plain Writing Act

Text ure

[Photo by : Casey Cripe]

U.S President Obama made the Plain Writing Act of 2010 as a law on October 13, 2010. India needs a similar law as well. I looked at a random sample of policy wording document [PDF] from Reliance General Insurance for a HealthWise Policy. Here is the “pre-amble” part:

WHEREAS the Insured designated in the Schedule to this Reliance HealthWise Policy having by a proposal and declaration together with any statement, report or other document which shall be the basis of the contract and shall be deemed to be incorporated herein, has applied to Reliance General Insurance Company Limited (hereinafter called “the Company”) for the insurance hereinafter set forth and paid appropriate premium for the period as specified in the Schedule.

NOW THIS POLICY WITNESSETH that subject to the terms, conditions, exclusions and definitions contained herein or endorsed or otherwise expressed hereon the Company, undertakes, that if during the period as specified in the Schedule to this Policy, the Insured/Insured Person shall contract any disease, illness or injury and if such disease, illness or injury shall upon the advice of a duly qualified Medical Practitioner require any such Insured/Insured Person, …blah blah.

It is simply a lot of gobbledygook text making it very difficult for average person to understand, and more so with English not being our primary language. This is prevalent in every government document as well as financial document. The content is not written in the form that an average person would understand. It seems that such language usage is often meant to confuse and divert the reader’s attention.

As an example, the above text can be made much simpler in following manner without loosing any of the context or the meaning:

The insurance contract between insured Mr X and Company is formed based on the proposal and declaration submitted. The insurance contract is based on the appropriate premium paid during the period as mentioned in this document.

The company promises to pay amount Rs Y if the insured person Mr X acquire any disease, illness or injury during the policy period. This amount paid is subject to terms, conditions, exclusion as defined in this document. The company requires that the advice of a duly qualified Medical Practitioner.. blah blah…

Jyoti Sanyal in his book Indlish provides an interesting historical reason behind such officialese language in our official documents. As per him, this type of language originated from babus working for East India Company. Unfortunately Indians adopted this not only in English but also in many regional languages.

The advantages are obvious for having a law for plain writing.  It will

  • Make it easy for customers to understand what they are signing
  • Bring transparency in the process and deals
  • Reduce any mis-selling of products
  • Reduce legal actions arising out of confusion between consumers and service providers.

I strongly believe that majority of mis-selling happens due to lack of understanding of the terms and conditions while signing up for any service. Hence such a law will be an important step in protecting consumers from fraudulent service providers. What do you think?

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