Citizens' Issues
RTI query on series of lift accidents triggers campaign for safety

Mohammed Afzal used the Right to Information Act to get information on the appalling state of inspection of lifts, following a series of serious accidents recently. He also managed to get legal intervention to upgrade regular inspections

On 14th July, the Bombay High Court ordered the Public Works Department (PWD) to update its websites with relevant details about lifts and inspections. The information must include the total number of lifts in Maharashtra, the number of lift licenses issued during the financial year, daily inspections carried out by the inspectors in this regard, a list showing the number of lift accidents that have occurred in Maharashtra and the investigations carried out in this regard.

The Court order was the result of a public interest litigation filed by consumer activist Mohammed Afzal, Sunil Ahya and activist lawyer Sandeep Jalan, who said that there is no record in the public domain about inspection of lifts carried out by the department concerned.

Based on the documents procured under the Right to Information Act (RTI) from the Industry, Energy and Labour Department and the PWD office, that includes a report to the state government on ways to curb accidents in lifts, Afzal discovered a starkly under-staffed department which is responsible for bi-yearly inspection of lifts and the pathetic condition of maintenance of lifts.

Consider this: Section 11 of the Lifts Act, 1959 states that every lift should be inspected twice a year. Inspection pertains to overseeing 32 types of lift defects and that every officer, in this case junior electrical engineers, should inspect 1,200 lifts per year.

Now the reality: As per a letter written by the chief engineer, electrical, Public Works Department, to the energy secretary on 25 February 2010 (a copy of the letter was procured under RTI), Maharashtra has 78,550 licensed lifts. For this, Maharashtra has two electrical inspectors, 12 assistant electrical inspectors and 16 junior electrical inspectors. Thus, each of the 16 junior electrical inspectors is required to inspect 1,200 lifts per year. On an average 5,500 lifts are installed every year and 46 posts are vacant.

Afzal stated in his petition that since the lifts have to be inspected twice a year, it would mean 78,550 x 2=1,57,100 inspections per year. This amounts to each of the 16 junior electrical engineers having to inspect 9,818 lifts which is an impossible task. Hence, the state government should outsource the job (as it is being done in Gujarat, as mentioned in the committee's report) to curb accidents.

As per rule 6, those in charge of the maintenance of lifts shall not use or cause the lift to be used which is not in safe working condition; record every repair and alteration to the lifts in a log book which shall be maintained in each lift installation; should remedy any fault in the lift instalment reported by the lift operator immediately and; see that work is carried out by the Lift Maintenance Contractor at least once a month. Since such rigorous maintenance is not being followed by any lift operator, or ensured by housing society managing committees, Afzal had petitioned the High Court to fix criminal negligence liability on the Lift Maintenance Contractor as well as the members of the managing committee. He has also asked for third party insurance cover for immediate medical expenses for the poor in case of lift accidents. The next hearing is scheduled for 12 December 2011.

What is it that inspired Afzal? He says: "On 10 October 2009, six fire brigade officials died in a lift accident in a housing society in Thane, where they had gone in response to a call to douse a fire in one of the flats. On 26 February 2010, a guest at Hotel Sea Lord in Mumbai died, also in a lift accident. On 23 March 2010, a resident of Dahisar in suburban Mumbai fell down the elevator shaft of a lift and died. In fact, there were about 10 fatalities in 2010. In my own housing society, the lift shook violently once, when my brother was inside it, but the managing committee did not take this matter seriously.''

So, on 25 March 2010, Afzal filed an RTI application under section 7, with a request for a reply within 48 hours (if the information concerns life or liberty of the person), about inspection of files across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Pune. The information sought related to the number of inspections undertaken in these cities in 2008-2009, copies of inspection reports and the follow-up action, and a copy of the committee report that recommended amendments to the Bombay Lift Act, 1939, and the Bombay Lift Rules, 1958. Afzal also sent an RTI application to the energy secretary, Mantralaya, asking for a copy of the report of an expert committee set up to curb lift accidents.

When he did not get a reply from either of the departments, Afzal appealed to the State Information Commission. "There are 78,550 lifts registered with the PWD electrical inspectors of lifts in the whole of Maharashtra as of today, and against this there are only 16 engineers to undertake inspection of lifts. Every year, 5,500 new lifts are registered, while under section 11 of the Bombay Lift Act, 1939, and section 3.4.2 of the Bombay Lift Rules, 1958, it is mandatory on the part of the authorised officials to visit and inspect the condition of the lifts twice a year. With the difference in the number of lifts registered with the PWD electrical inspectors of lifts and the engineers available for inspection of all lifts in the entire state, it would take about seven years to inspect all 78,550 lifts once a year, forget about inspection of all lifts twice a year. It is humanly not possible to inspect all lifts. My 48 hours RTI application sought a copy of the report finalised/submitted to the state government by the committee formed to recommend suggestions on the Bombay Lift Act, 1939 and Rules, 1958."

According to the committee report, "states like Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar, Chandigarh, Dadara and Nagar Haveli, Diu and Daman, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry have not fixed any frequency for inspection at all." {break}
Afzal is disappointed with this recommendation and states that increasing the frequency of inspection will put pressure on the lift maintenance agency, which is the need of the hour, and for this outsourcing should be undertaken instead of having inspection once in two years just to keep up the ratio between the number of lift inspectors and lifts.

What are the common reasons for lift accidents? According to the committee report:

Cause                                                                    Number of accidents
1. Fault in landing door locking arrangement                        12
2. Fault in maintenance switch                                                 6
3. Open doors between two floors and falling in pit               6
4. Fault in swing doors                                                             4
5. Human mistake                                                                     3
6. Broken vision panel [glass]                                                  1
7. Rope breakage                                                                       1
8. While repairing and maintaining lifts                                   1

The committee reported that "it is found that fault in door lock, maintenance switch and trying to escape from lift due to stoppage of lift between floors are the main reasons of accidents. Hence, the lift owner, lift contractors and passengers are required to take due care of lifts and public awareness is necessary."

It recommended that, "Reputed companies paste notices on the dos and don'ts for life passengers in their lifts. Some of them are not relevant and small contractors do not paste such notices. So comprehensive notice of do's and don'ts is prepared and on the basis of that slide show and animated films are being prepared. Such information is of 15 to 20 minutes and will be animated and will be exhibited in large housing complexes and schools. Articles about do's and don'ts to be published in newspapers for use and care of lift by passengers. The government should provide funds for the same. Awareness about the Acts and Rules among lift maintenance contractors should be undertaken by holding meetings." The committee also recommended a fine of Rs50,000 and if necessary along with six months imprisonment for negligence of maintenance of lifts, instead of a petty sum of Rs500 as is the case now.

Says Afzal, "The High Court has set the ball rolling by ordering transparency by the department on inspection details. Now, I hope it also gives a favourable judgment on outsourcing; criminal negligence liability on the managing committee /lift maintenance contractor and builder, and third party insurance to cover immediate medical expenses for the poor in case of a lift accident."

CIRCULAR AS PER THE COMMITTEE'S RECOMMENDATIONS  

Safety tips for lifts

With reference to the above subject, all authorised contractors are asked for lift safety, lift handling, lift erection and maintenance. Following arrangement is mandatory. Lift owners /contractors shall ensure that the following arrangements are provided.

1. No lift shall be operated without a license issued by the PWD. No lift contractor shall undertake the maintenance contract of any lifts without confirming that the same is licensed.

2. Rule 6(v): It is essential that the maintenance contractor of each lift is entrusted with only a licensed lift company, firm or contractor.

3. Rule 6(vi): Every company/contractor entrusted with the maintenance of the lift shall keep the safety devices intact and report to the owner of the lift immediately, if any defect is found in the lift installation for rectification.

4. Rule 5/2(j): For all lifts substantial apron (to a guard) of minimum 750mm depth shall be provided. Facia plate of appropriate type shall be provided as specified in this rule.

5. Rule 5/25(h): Emergency stop/maintenance/inspection/ switch of manually opened and closed type shall be provided and maintained on the top of every lift car and lift pit, which shall be marked conspicuously and shall be easily accessible from the landing floors. For the emergency stop/inspection/switch the provision of IS 14665:2000 Part 3: Section 1 clause 9.3.9.4.shall be complied.

6. Rule 5/5(i) (b): Where glass is provided for vision panel; such glass shall be of fully transparent and laminated type protected by providing strong metallic grill.

7. Rule 5/26 (b): All trailing cable shall be of flexible construction and shall be fire proof. [Conforming to the standard of Bombay Fire Insurance Association and Indian Electricity Rules].

8. Rule 5/28 (g): The final limit switches shall be affixed on the rail inside the lift shaft and shall be operated by the movement of the lift car. The cams for operating the limit switches shall be of metal.

9. Rule 61: The metallic body of energy meter, the frame of the lift motor and other medium voltage energy consuming apparatus, all associated with the lift installation shall be efficiently earthed by two separate and distinct connections with earth.

10. Rule 61(A): Earth leakage circuit breakers of appropriate rating shall be provided for the three phase and single phase circuits associated with and its installation.

11. Emergency de-locking arrangement shall be provided to each landing gate to rescue the trapped passengers.

12. Electronic magnetic retiring cam shall be used. Do not use wooden cam.

13. Safety guards shall be provided on the car top.

14. Rule 5/6 (a): The old and obsolete limit switch type (reed type) landing gate locks shall be replaced by electromechanical (universal type) locks.

15. Rule 5/5 (d): The distance between the swing door type landing gates and the car gates shall not be more than 75mm.

16. Rule 5/7 (f): The approach to the landing gate on each floor shall be kept lighted with adequate illumination.

17. *IS 14665:2000 Part 3: Section I Clause 6:2 (Proposed): Every passenger lift shall be provided with an overload device which will prevent the lift car from starting in case the lift car is loaded to 110% of the rated capacity of the lift or more. The lift shall remain stationary with the door open. Audio visual warning device shall be provided to alert the passenger in case of overload.

NOTE:

1. Please note that in addition to the contents of the above circular, all the provisions of the Bombay Lift Act ,1939, and Bombay Lift Rules, 1958, therein shall be observed.

2. All licensed lift contractors shall hand over the copy of the circular to the concerned owner of each lift under their maintenance contract for the due observance of the contents of the circular.

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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COMMENTS

Nitin Kirtane

5 years ago

Inspection of lifts is a must as there are many accidents where people have lost their lives , so mr fazal mr jalan have done very nice work to take up this matter , and by wiriting this article great work by Mrs deshmukh who continues her good social work , all the best ..............

United India chief asked to take up additional charge as New India Assurance CMD

The CBI has alleged that M Ramadoss, during his tenure as Oriental Insurance head, had entered into a criminal conspiracy with Paramount officials for providing credit insurance cover to the airline, which was in violation of the existing rules and regulations

New Delhi: United India Insurance chief, G Srinivasan, has taken up additional charge of chairman and managing director (CMD) of the country's largest PSU general insurance company, New India Assurance, reports PTI.

The appointment follows the suspension order issued by the government to New India Assurance CMD, M Ramadoss, over alleged irregularities in the grant of credit insurance cover to a private airline company during his tenure as Oriental Insurance head.

Mr Srinivasan has taken over the additional charge of Mumbai-based New India Assurance from today, sources added.

Mr Ramadoss has been put on suspension pending investigation of the allegations against by the CBI, official sources said.

A case is also pending against Mr Ramadoss with anti-corruption watchdog Central Vigilance Commission.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the residence of Mr Ramadoss in connection with alleged irregularities in the credit insurance cover given to Paramount Airways by Oriental Insurance.

The case pertains to alleged irregularities in the grant of credit insurance amounting to Rs14-Rs25 crore by Oriental Insurance to Chennai-based Paramount Airways in 2008-09 towards multiple bank guarantees for covering fuel purchases.

Credit insurance, now banned by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), is taken by a company to cover its dues and in case it fails to repay them, banks recover it from the insurance companies.

Mr Ramadoss is the second chief of a state-owned insurer to face action this year. In May, the government removed Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) chairman, TS Vijayan following alleged irregularities in investment decisions taken by the insurer during his tenure. The CBI is looking into the matter.

The CBI has alleged that Mr Ramadoss entered into a criminal conspiracy with Paramount officials for providing credit insurance cover to the airline, which was in violation of the existing rules and regulations.

Paramount Airways had taken a loan of about Rs400 crore from five major banks to make payments for fuel to oil companies. However, it allegedly defaulted in repaying the amount.

These five banks had subsequently sent claims to Oriental Insurance, which had issued the credit insurance to the airline.

The planes of Paramount Airways were de-registered in 2010, following which they could not operate their flights.

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Was Ronnie Screwvala forced to sell out to Disney?

Ronnie Screwvala’s sellout to Walt Disney has been hailed as a blazing exit. But he made much less money than the media thinks, points out an astute investor, because a lot of Screwvala’s shares were pledged

It is surprising as to why would Ronnie Screwvala, who founded UTV Software Communications in 1990 would like to sell off the business to Walt Disney after running it successfully for more than 20 years. Is he not able to manage UTV? Is he not seeing a future for the Indian media industry? Is Disney forcing him to exit? Is he bored of being an entrepreneur and wants to become an employee now? Amit Bagaria, an astute investor, has been digging into the financials of Mr Screwvala's holding and has come to an interesting conclusion as to what could have triggered Mr Screwvala's decision to completely exit from UTV.

But first, what does Mr Screwvala make out of the deal? It's much less than what the media is led to believe. Mr Bagaria points out that "to augment growth for his cash-guzzling media business Ronnie Screwvala placed a majority stake (93.52 lakh shares @ Rs860.79 per share in February 2008) to Disney and at the same time, issued warrants to himself, to be converted in the next 18 months (45.32 lakh shares @ Rs860.79 per share). The warrants would enable Ronnie to maintain his shareholding equal to Disney's shareholding of close to 40%. But then the financial crisis of 2008 deepened when Lehman Brothers went bust and UTV shares eventually plummeted to less than Rs200. In November 2009, at the time of conversion of shares, Ronnie Screwvala had to let his warrants lapse (because his conversion would happen @Rs860 against the prevailing price of Rs450). Thus Disney became the majority shareholder in UTV and Mr Screwvala had to forfeit the 10% of the warrant value paid during the allotment. Later on after mergers and amalgamations of several of UTV's subsidiaries with itself, Disney's stake came down to a little more than 50% thus making Disney the new promoter.

Toward the end of last month The Walt Disney Company Pte Ltd. announced its plans to acquire UTV Software Communications Ltd. The company plans to subsequently delist the equity shares of the company from the stock exchanges and on successful delisting, the company will acquire the 20% stake held by the promoters. Mr Screwvala currently holds 80,52,680 shares in the company and assuming an exit price of Rs1,000 (as indicated by Disney), his stake is valued at Rs800 crore. In early 2008 when he parted with a sizeable stake to Disney to fund his expansion plans, he was holding 80,83,680 shares in the company @Rs1,000 (the stock price at that point in time) which was worth Rs800 crore and he was the majority shareholder. Clearly, three-and-a-half years later Mr Screwvala has given away the control of UTV, and become an employee of Walt Disney and earned less for it. According to Mr Bagaria, this is "a classic case where the promoter puts in a great deal of hard work to create assets and to create a great brand but fails to capitalise on the same." The question is, why would Mr Screwvala do this?

Pledged Shares

According to the company's filings, Mr Screwvala currently holds 80,52,680 shares in the company and nearly 60% of the shares were pledged. Therefore after Disney pays him, he would have to repay the money he had raised against this pledge and would be left with a significantly lesser amount than what the media headlines suggest.

Since March 2009, the last quarter of FY2008-09, wherein the promoters pledged 81% of their shares, the percentage of pledged shares has never been below 70% until the past three quarters. The borrowings of the company also more than doubled in FY09-10 to Rs789 crore from Rs347 crore in FY08-09.

Is it that Mr Screwvala was forced to sell out because he is unable to repay the loan raised against the pledge? We tried contacting the company and Mr Screwvala but have received no reply from them as yet.

Mr Bagaria suspects that Mr Screwvala sold out to repay the money he had raised by pledging his shares and if you take that into account, he walked away with much less money than what the media tends to believe and broadcast. "He pledged his stake worth Rs470 crore with financial institutions and it seems was being pressured by them to pay up. As he was unable to manage funds from other sources, he was left with no choice but to sell his company."

 If Mr Bagaria is right, Mr Screwvala would have pocketed a net Rs800 crore had he sold UTV completely in early 2008, (with control premium it would have been ever higher) while now all that he is left with is Rs800cr-Rs470cr=Rs330 crore. Seems like a case where shares pledged by the promoter ended up with him losing control of his entire business.

Based on his analysis, Mr Bagaria also raises wider issues of share pledging. He asks "how beneficial is share pledging for Indian promoters? Think of Great Offshore when you answer this. Are Indian entrepreneurs as dynamic and successful as they are projected to be? Think of Ronnie Screwvala when you answer this. Great Offshore promoters lost control over their company after they heavily pledged their shares to pursue growth. Mr Bagaria points out "Hopefully other young, growth-hungry, aggressive Indian promoters would learn something out of this episode." No chance of that happening.

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COMMENTS

SonJoy sharma

5 years ago

Question is what did Ronnie do with the cash from the pledged shares...

REPLY

Amit

In Reply to SonJoy sharma 5 years ago

Thats a million dollar question... no clear answer for it... i am sure that money has not got into UTV.. nor has he bought stake with the pledge money otherwise his holding would have gone up.. the only probable answer is that the money must have gone into some personal venture.

subramanyam

5 years ago

Moral of the story: Media business is bad - you end up losing money for the shareholder and the viewer! Long live media employees!!

subramanyam

5 years ago

the whole argument can come to a stand still UNLESS you know what he did with the borrowed money. It is too big an amount and could have appreciated in some other asset. Also the valuation assumption is always co. will DO BETTER -but 2008 happened. If the whole deal was stuck in 2008, it would have been a distress sale..too much is hindsight. Lets fact it having been in the markets from 1979..every stage from 3000 to 21000 looked like a bubble!

kanu doshi

5 years ago

This is interesting. What needs to be understood is why are promoters pledging their shares in the first place? What do they do with the borrowed funds? Amit Bagaria pl do this research.
Results will throw up startling facts,least of all 'sympathy' for the promoters.

Ashok Chowgule

5 years ago

Can we have an analysis of the TV channels, IBN and NDTV? Both have been making consistent losses for some years. It is necessary for the public to know how they have been financed. Also, about two/three years ago NDTV, through an indirect subsidiary in the UK, raised $250mn. How has this affected the position of other shareholders? And where was the money used?

REPLY

Amit Bagaria

In Reply to Ashok Chowgule 5 years ago

Hi Ashok,

Your observation is correct. All media companies in India has failed to create any wealth for shareholders. Most of the money raised is invested into risky new business ventures which makes losses for first few years and then they realize it and close the venture. If you really want to have an insight about how these companies are doing.. try analyzing the latest corporate restructuring by Network 18 group.

Deepak Shenoy

5 years ago

Ronnie got some money for pledging shares, didn't he? He must have borrowed around 200 cr - was that money stolen? That's money he used then?

Is it right to just subtract the debt he had from his earnings, and say he got a raw deal? He must have used the borrowed money for something; and when one borrows beyond one's means it's not often that we all feel sorry for him.

The other explanation is that the company took on the debt, lost money and promoters shares were pledged against it. This is common in India, although strange - why should a promoter lose money if the company's borrowing it? But then it was a bad business - Screwwala is lucky to get away with some surplus; most others are not as lucky.

As for warrants, a significant number of promoters have lost money in warrants issued in 2007-08 where stocks are way below warrant prices.

REPLY

Amit Bagaria

In Reply to Deepak Shenoy 5 years ago

HI Deepak,

You are absolutely right when you raise the point about the money he raised by pledging his shares. Now where that money has been deployed is a mystery. But i believe it has gone into some unrelated business outside UTV. Now the nature is difficult to find out.


Prakash

5 years ago

I understand that somewhere in 2009 SEBI decided to make disclosure of pledged shares mandatory and the listed companies have to inform the public.

I would like to know how can an investor come to know of pledged shares of a listed company where he is already an investor or wishes to invest. Is it available on BSE website or mandatory to put it up on company website ?

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