Lift in the lurch...

Last Updated 26 April 2014, 20:05 IST

Mounting elevator accidents do not bode well for a city on an explosive vertical growth. The city’s lifts await an urgent rescue act from a cocktail of poor maintenance, quality compromises and toothless regulation.

Claustrophobic, she had always been. But Raveena had no option. She had to take that dimly lit, shabbily maintained lift to reach her aunt’s flat on the fifth floor. As the door closed with a hideous, creaking noise, she stared at the screen. The numbers had disappeared. A moment later, the lights flickered and went off. Panic-stricken, she screamed...

Inside the four walls of the elevator, Raveena and thousands like her desperately sought a semblance of safety and security. But the sorry state of a majority of the city’s estimated 25,000 lifts wouldn’t give them that confidence. For, the Karnataka State Electrical Inspectorate (KSEI), the licensing authority for every lift in Bangalore, has no power to re-inspect or review approvals. Even if it did, there are many that are reportedly not even approved by KSEI!

Lately, after a series of lift accidents that triggered deaths, injuries and extreme fear, the KSEI has realised the need to strengthen its rules. Significantly, the proposed new rules stress on periodic renewal of licences. Existing rules are too lenient, as they require only a spot inspection at the time of lift installation. Checks later are too random, an invitation for negligence and manipulation.  

But what about the illegal, unauthorised elevators that lurk within scores of poorly planned, designed and built vertical structures across the City? How were these allowed to be installed and made dangerously risky to ride? How did they escape the KSEI eyes? 

Substandard spares

The Inspectorate has no ready answers and banks on the imminent approval of the new rules. But many builders know how local lift manufacturers can quickly get an elevator assembled from spare parts, available acrosss the counter on the city’s SP Road. As a well-informed builder reveals, “the spare parts are of inferior quality, nowhere near the standard ones offered mostly by firms such as Schindler and Johnson. Since there are no re-inspections, lifts assembled with poor quality parts are passed off as standard ones. Fake labels are affixed to fool people.”

Architects assert that technically, no lift can be installed anywhere in the city without the KSEI’s approval. “The lift manufacturers run the risk of losing their licence if they do that. Most accidents happen due to improper maintenance after installation. The fly-by-night operators are guilty of sourcing poor quality materials. The electrical inspectorate should mandate that fitness certificates are required every year,” says noted architect Naresh Narasimhan from Venkatraman Associates.

In residential apartments, the respective associations are responsible for the upkeep of the lifts. But in many old apartments in the city, maintenance is an oft-ignored concept, risking the lives of residents there. As an expert on elevators put it, “Many of these lifts, especially the older ones, are not equipped with alarm systems. These should be linked to a phone. A general upgrade of the safety standards is required fast.”

New legislation, rules

KSEI officials insist that the proposed new rules could stem the rot to an extent. For instance, there is a proposal to renew lift licences 10 years after installation and for five subsequent years thereafter. If a lift is found to be faulty and poorly maintained during renewal, its operations can be supsended. Besides, the building owners will have to sign a maintenance contract with the lift company. The owners could deposit a fixed amount with the company to ensure periodic checks. 

Since lift operators are disappearing from most apartments and multi-storey commercial buildings, there is also a need to train owners and the maintenance staff. The Inspectorate now wants the lift installation firms to undertake this critical training, particularly in places where there are no operators. Also on the KSEI agenda is a rule to make building owners and the lift company directly accountable for any accident due to negligence. Hefty penalties on violators are also on the anvil.

In 2012, the state government had amended the Karnataka State Lifts Act, 1974, to boost the safety of lifts and escalators. A new piece of legislation, the Karnataka Lifts, Escalators and Passenger Conveyers Act, 2012, was drafted, making it mandatory to buy lifts from registered companies alone. The original Act itself had a provision for inspection of every lift at least once in three months by an officer authorised by the government. 

Violations galore

Forget inspection, over 10 per cent of the lifts in the city are reportedly functioning without even the mandatory KSEI licence. In this regard, Delhi and Mumbai, both cities with a much higher density of multi-storey buildings, are no better. For instance, till last April, Delhi had just 10 lift inspectors to check an estimated 30,000 elevators. No violations had been booked nor any licence cancelled. 

Lifts in the national capital territory of Delhi are governed by the Bombay Lift Act, 1939, as extended to NCT of Delhi, and the Delhi Lift Rules, 1942. The Act is being enforced by the inspector of lifts, the Electrical Inspector and Assistant Electrical Inspectors. But the rules do not give powers to the Public Works Department to directly penalise the violators. 

In Bangalore’s case, the Chief Electrical Inspector to the government, D H Basavaraju asserts that once the new rules come into force, even lifts older than 10 years will come under its purview. This, he contends, will bring to the fore poorly maintained elevators and control accidents. Additional Chief Electrical Inspector, Bangalore North, D L Nagaraj echoes this confidence when he talks about the lifts in smaller buildings that had gone “unnoticed” so far.

But, with the new legislation also bringing escalators and walkalators into the KSEI’s fold, the Inspectorate’s hands are bound to be full. With the growth of highrise buildings accelerating, number of escalators in malls and Metro stations increasing, KSEI is sure to battle many more challenges in multiple fronts. Are they ready? It surely is a tough call!

(Published 26 April 2014, 20:05 IST)

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