Several new residential buildings in Delhi and Gurgaon have broad horizontal bars as railings for balconies and the terraces. Painted brown, they seem like bars of wood and look good. Since there are only tiny gaps between the bars, I regarded them as safe, till an architect told me that children use them as “step ladders” to climb over balustrades.
International standards for balustrades prohibit horizontal elements that facilitate children using them as ladders. With good reasons too. Only last year, two-year-old Kalyani fell from the second floor balcony of her house in Nagpur, trying to climb up one such balcony railing. I now worry about all those houses with horizontal bars.
Vertical bars are even more hazardous when they are not built to specifications such as those in the national building code and have gaping holes that allow a child to just slip through. This is exactly what happened to one-and-a-half-year-old Alima in east Delhi last week. The vertical railings of the staircase outside her fourth-floor apartment had such large gaps that she slipped through them and fell to her death.
Even plain common sense will tell you that such railings are a no-no. Yet, the builder provided such a staircase, totally disregarding the safety of residents, particularly the children.
Just two days earlier, five-year-old Saba Shaikh plunged from the seventh floor balcony of his flat in Worli, Mumbai, to the ground below, again because the vertical grills were built without any thought of safety.
Last year, in Bangalore alone, there were as many as eight accidents that highlighted safety issues in high rises. While four children died on account of non-standard vertical balcony grills, in two other cases, inappropriate height (from safety standards) of the balcony balustrade and the terrace wall led to the death of a young man and a teenager. The previous year, too, saw at least four such avoidable tragedies involving children in Bangalore alone.
It is now imperative that civic authorities give notices to all builders to immediately rectify (at their cost) such gaps in safety in all multi-storey buildings or else face prosecution. For this, resident associations should come together and force the authorities to act.
Sukhanya Rao: I read about this toddler falling from the fourth floor of his house in east Delhi. What action can the parents take against the builder in such cases?
Answer: No amount of money can ever compensate the loss of a child, but they cannot allow the builder go scot-free. Besides filing a police complaint, they should file a complaint before the consumer court, holding the builder (they can name the civic authorities also) liable for the death of their child. The compensation in such cases can be really steep, so as to send out a clear message to other builders that they cannot take safety lightly. The apex consumer court can also give a general direction to all builders and civic authorities to inspect all residential apartments for compliance with safety standards, rectify lacunae and report back within a specified period, so that at least in the future, precious lives are not lost on account of the avariciousness of the builders.