Friday, February 05, 2010

Lift accidents in Mumbai-Pune: RTI documents reveal underlying causes


5th February 2010, Mumbai: Bhupendra Singh Gulati, 52, opened the lift door at the 7th floor while talking on his mobile phone, and stepped inside. He plunged six floors down the empty lift well, and died after landing on top of the lift car. This tragedy happened on 3rd June 2008, at Violet Building, Viman Nagar, Pune. Cause of accident: a defective landing door’s lock which allowed the door to be opened, even when the lift was not present. The lift, erected by Escon, had no maintenance contractor.

On the afternoon of 23rd October 2008, 38-year-old Ajay Baliram Ghayatkar was entering the elevator on the 6th floor. When it suddenly started moving upwards, Ajay fell half inside and half out. He was crushed between car ceiling and landing door, with his back and legs hanging two feet below the landing ceiling. This shocking incident happened in Pune’s Bhosale Shinde Arcade, near Deccan Gymkhana, on 23rd October, 2008. The lift was made by Kinetic Transportation, and maintained by Icon Elevators. Causes: Firstly brake slippage; secondly, difference between the counter weights was not as per the rules.

These are a few of the lift accidents mentioned in a log book by PWD’s Lift, Energy and Labour Department. Mumbai RTI activist Mohammed Afzal accessed these records under Right to Information after his brother Mohammed Farooq, a diabetic patient with multiple clots in his brain, had a traumatic experience in a lift some weeks earlier. On 14th January this year, instead of flying kites, Mohammed Afzal and his fellow activist Krishnaraj Rao inspected the documents of this department’s office at Chembur. (Read Afzal’s RTI application here: )

The RTI documents revealed three shocking facts which contribute to accidents:

Administrative deficiency:
Maharashtra PWD’s Lifts Department is woefully understaffed for doing the work that it is supposed to do. According to Section 11 of Bombay Lifts Act 1939, it is the responsibility of the State Government to inspect each lift twice a year, and recommend to the owner of the lift rectification of various faults. If necessary, it can order the closure of a lift that seems dangerous. The department has 73,324 registered lifts in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Pune region, and only 11 inspectors to handle them. This means around 6,500 lifts per inspector. Assuming that each inspector routinely inspects and reports on an average of 30 lifts per six-day week – a high average considering government holidays, casual leaves, the time taken to file reports, investigate accidents etc. etc. – it will take around four years to inspect each lift even once. In other words, there is a need for at least eight times as many inspectors to ensure bare minimum compliance with the legal requirement of inspecting each lift twice a year. (Read the supporting documents here: )

Frequent deficiencies in maintenance:
The department’s list of defects is quite comprehensive about the various ways in which maintenance of lifts is neglected: However, for want of reqular inspections by the statutory authority, such defects are not pointed out in time, and go unnoticed or are neglected by penny-pinching building societies or sloppy maintenance contractors. Often, maintenance contractors remove crucial parts like switches for maintenance without shutting down the lift. This seems to cause quite a few fatal accidents. However, such instances rarely seem to result in police cases, court trials and convictions.

A fatal technological flaw:
Doors open at the wrong time, when the lift car is not at landing. Conversely, lift cars move when called from upstairs or downstairs, even when doors are still open. A study of the accident log books from 2002 onwards indicates that an overwhelming majority of the accidents have happened because of a technological flaw that allows lifts to start moving even when the door is open, or, alternatively, allows doors to open even when the lift is not in position. After studying the log files and translating some accident reports, RTI Activist Sunil Ahya, who is himself a manufacturer of sundry equipments, observed that it is surely possibly to device ways to make the door mechanism absolutely foolproof. “It is shocking that in this day and age, we put up with such an obvious technological flaw that kills people. With the present level of technology, it is not rocket-science to build lifts where the door will absolutely never open unless the lift car is at the landing floor, and conversely, the car will absolutely never move when the lift door is open.”

In the bulk of the fatal cases, the story goes like this: A person was entering lift, which someone upstairs or downstairs called it. And so the unfortunate person fell and either got crushed between the lift and the landing, or plunged into the lift well.

Mr Sanjay Bhasme, Electrical Inspector (Lifts) of Mumbai, wrote a letter to his superiors asking for around 109 additional personnel to be appointed to various posts on an urgent basis. He pointed out that every year, around 5,500 new lifts were being registered in his jurisdiction of Mumbai-Thane-Pune region, whereas only around 1,200 inspections were currently being carried out. Read his well-reasoned letter in Marathi:

The question is: Is Maharashtra government listening? Or will a big disaster have to happen before netas and babus sit up and take notice?


Note: Log Books of Fatal and Non-Fatal Accidents, which are handwritten and in Marathi, are too large to scan; Xerox copies can be made available on request. These books give exact details of lift accidents – categorised as fatal and non-fatal. Below are a few specimens of accidents, minus details such as names of victims, buildings, maintenance contractors etc.


30th April 2002, Kalwa: Door open, lift moved, child crushed between doors.

26th July 2002, Kalyan: Lift door opened at wrong time, Man tried stepping out, lift moved.

9th Oct 2002, Nagpur: Lift moved when man was entering lift, man crushed

25th Feb 2003, Mumbai: Lift moved when someone upstairs pressed the button. Man entering the lift was crushed.

8th April 2003, Pune: Child was crushed between inner and outer doors of lifts. Children were playing inside the lift, when the inner door suddenly opened, causing the child to fall out between inner and outer doors.

25th June 2003, Mumbai: Woman put her head into the lift well when the outer door opened without the lift being in place. Her head was torn off by the lift car which suddenly came from above.

4th July 2003, Mumbai: Man was crushed between the doors and the lift when he was entering. The doors closed when lift was called from above.

… and so on.

23rd May 2005, Mumbai: An 8-year-old girl lost her hand when she tried to close the outer door, and someone called the lift. As the lift started unexpectedly moving, it cut off her hand.

19th Sept, 2007, Thane: The lift travelling down with eight persons, failed to stop at the ground floor, and crashed into the spring buffers in the pit.

25th Oct 2007, Mumbai: An NDTV photographer and five other passengers travelling upward in the lift were injured when it suddenly fell down from the third floor and crashed into the buffer pit. It was found that the lift was not erected in compliance with Rule 6 of Mumbai Lift Rules, 1958.

And so on…

Article by:
Krishnaraj Rao

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