Six firemen died of suffocation after they were stuck in the lift of a 14-storeyed building in Thane, where they had gone to douse a fire on October 19. Officials said it could have been caused by power failure and the lack of back-up power.
There’s very little the office of the State Inspector of Lifts and Elevators (SILE) can do if such an incident occurs in the future. That’s because the government has left vacant over half the posts of junior engineers who inspect lifts in the state.
The SILE office is a government body that inspects each lift in the state before installation and then once every year. Before certifying a lift, the SILE office ensures that it is purchased from one of the 300 approved companies and that safety norms are complied with.
It also keeps a check on lift manufacturing firms, ensuring that they don’t make more
elevators than they are permitted to.
“As of March, there were 78,000 lifts in Maharashtra but just 13 junior engineers to inspect them. The sanctioned strength is 30,” said SILE Sanjay Basme.
Though there used to be only one SILE for all of Maharashtra, now there is also one for Mumbai, Thane and Pune alone. Both offices share the 13 junior engineers for inspections.
“With our present staff strength, we cannot check every lift once a year,” said Basme “If people come to us with specific problems, we can help them.”
Other than inspecting lifts, the SILE office also prepares reports of every lift accident. “Our investigation comprises three parts — question the builder and owner of the building, question the maintenance contractor and then those who survived,” said Basme.
When asked what led to the mishap in Thane, Basme said: “The firemen should have stopped the lift on the 12th floor itself, but they were so caught up in trying to perform their duty that they never thought of that.”
Basme pointed out some lapses in the lift and elevator rulebook. “It is not specified for how long a lift can be used,” he said. “We have proposed that a lift should not be used for more than 20 years.”
He added: “When I went to the Taj and Trident hotels after the November 26, 2008, terror attacks, I recommended the lifts be replaced; they complied. But not everybody does so.”
When asked when the junior engineer vacancies would be filled, he only said that the selection is done through the Maharashtra Public Service Commission exam.