Mumbai: Woman alleges worker died due to elevator ban
Housing society dispute in posh Worli high-rise turns ugly after domestic help dies, allegedly due to being forced to climb several flights of stairs
A Worli housing society has allegedly barred a flat owner from using the elevators, and the latter has now alleged that the ban caused the death of a domestic help while he was climbing down the stairs from the 31st floor. Rajkumar Gupta, 27, who was a domestic help for Kanaka Lata Poddaar's family, died of 'acute respiratory distress syndrome, with severe cerebral edema', according to the post-mortem report.
Poddaar alleged that this was because Gupta was forced to climb up and down several flights of stairs over several weeks. Poddaar lives in the 40-storey RNA Mirage in Worli, which also houses some of the city's top bureaucrats and business honchos. She alleged that her family and workers have been barred from using the lifts due to a dispute over maintenance dues. Poddaar said the society has labelled her a defaulter for not paying Rs 30,000/month maintenance fee for one of her flats.
She said while the building has three elevators, the family has been forced to use the service elevators. Poddaar, who owns two flats in the ninth floor and one in the 31st floor, alleged that the service elevator is not always accessible and she and her workers have to walk up and down.
"The society has denied us the use of lifts since May 27," said Poddaar. "Building Chairman Manoj Maniar, Secretary Ankur Lodha and property manager Jitendra Mishra have conspired to harass us. We have been asked not to use elevators A and B; and use elevator C to ride up and down. But the car of elevator C is often left open and one has to wait for a longer time. One of my workers filed a (non-cognisable) complaint against the society on May 27 at Worli police station."
Kanak Poddaar whose flat is on the 31st floor
Chairman of the housing society Manoj Maniar said, "There are three lifts in our society. The Poddaars have been allowed to use two of them. It can not be said that barring the use of one lift out of three is preventing basic services. The above position has already been intimated to Worli police."
Secretary Ankur Lodha said, "The Poddaar family has not paid maintenance for months and the outstanding bill is Rs 25 lakh. Also, property tax of up to Rs 30 lakh is pending against her flats. We had banned them from using the lift just to recover the maintenance as the non-payment of maintenance by them meant that we had to increase the maintenance bill of others by 20 per cent"
Poddaar said she owns three flats in the building, two of which she bought from the builder and the third on resale, in May-June 2015.
"At that time, the builder clearly mentioned in the agreement that I don't have to pay maintenance for two years," she said. "Hence, I didn't have to pay maintenance till May 2017. The society, which was formed in February 2017, has been forcing me to pay the maintenance bill of my two flats on the 9th floor since January 2017, which amounts to R3.60 lakh for Jan-Jun 2017. When I protested, they banned me from using the lifts."
She said on September 19, Gupta was waiting for the elevator C to go from the 31st floor to the 9th floor.
"I had to go to office and Gupta was supposed to accompany me in the elevator C with some stuff and a laptop bag. I rang his mobile phone but it went unanswered," said Poddaar, who runs a business in Churchgate. "Gupta's cousin Guddu got down on the 9th floor, where my workers live. When I had reached the ground floor, Guddu called me to say Gupta wasn't breathing. I took the same elevator up and tried to administer Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to Gupta, but it was futile."
Gupta was rushed to the nearby Poddar Hospital, where doctors declared him dead on arrival. The body was sent to BYL Nair Hospital for post-mortem. The cause of death certificate said Gupta died of "acute respiratory distress syndrome with severe cerebral edema (natural)". Gupta's body was later flown to his family in Uttar Pradesh.
The 40-storey RNA Mirage
On October 1, Poddaar wrote a complaint to the housing society, blaming them for Gupta's death.
'I never found any health problems in Rajkumar Gupta from the day he joined me till his death,' she said in the letter. 'This is my complaint against the chairman, secretary, treasurer, property manager and the entire management committee whose unlawful rules are completely responsible for the death of Gupta. He was not allowed to use the lift and he used the stairs from the 31st floor to the 9th floor and died immediately at 8.35am, which is a murder and death by management committee.'
Zonal Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhinash Kumar said he will look into the complaint filed at the Worli police station. "All possible legal steps will be taken against the housing society if they are at fault," said Kumar.
'It is illegal to deny services to defaulters'
Advocate Vinod Sampat, who specialises in cooperative societies, said it is illegal to ban defaulters from using the lifts.
"If the defaulter has not paid maintenance, the interest will be multiplied and can be settled via court," he said. "But the CHSL reserves no right to deprive housing society members of facilities and amenities which others enjoy. This amounts to a crime and the family should approach the police and file a criminal case."
He said it would help if the family had video recordings to support their claim against all the committee members.
"It amounts to mischief, criminal intimidation and wrongful restraint," he said. "The family should also slap CHSL with a notice of deficiency of services and simultaneously approach the Cooperative Court."
Advocate DS Vader, secretary, Mumbai District Housing Federation said elevator is an essential service and there are other ways to penalise defaulters. "The CHSL should have filed a case against them to recover the pending amount under relevant sections of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Housing Society Act, but they can't stop the services of lift," he said, adding that the Poddaars should immediately approach the Registrar to apprise him of the high handedness of CHSL or approach a court of law.
After learning that the decision taken by the CHSL is incorrect and amounts to criminal case, the chairman of the housing society Maniar said, "We are now ready to allow Poddaar family to use all the three lifts. We have been voluntarily doing this work for the betterment of our society."
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