Mukesh Gupta, 50, and Arun Kumar Agarwal, 51, have had long careers full of ups and downs, literally. And the two men love their state of affairs; they wouldn’t want it any other way.
Gupta and Agarwal are deputy electrical inspectors and their job is to inspect elevators. The two men — who have taken to calling the elevators cars, as they seem to only travel in elevators these days — issue licenses for installation of new elevators and check the maintenance of old ones except those in central government and defence buildings. And, according to them, about 200 new elevators are installed in the city every month.
“The city has over 35,000 elevators and 40% of them have been installed in the past few years. The number of lifts is growing fast, thanks to the housing boom. In fact, 80% of total lifts in the city are installed in housing societies. Dwarka alone has about 8,000 lifts, the maximum in any area in the city,” says Gupta, sitting in his third floor office at Shamnath Marg in Civil Lines, which, ironically does not have a lift.
The lift boom in the city, according to Agarwal, has to do with rising property prices. “Earlier, the cost of a lift in proportion to the cost of the building used to be about 10%, now it is hardly 2%,” says Agarwal, adding that a lot of people in areas such as Pitampura and Janakpuri are now installing lifts after the government relaxed norms for additional floors for residential flats having multiple ownership.
The duo joined the Delhi government’s electrical department in 1987. Their work involves checking electrical and mechanical operations of a lift: its door operations, emergency alarm, speed, break shoes, stop switch, fire alarm switch, etc. That means venturing into the engine room, the pit and the shaft, where the lift moves. “When a new lift is to be installed, we need to check whether the dimensions of the shaft are appropriate for the size of the lift to be installed, as the size of the shaft governs the capacity and the speed of a lift,” says Agarwal.
The speed of an elevator, they say, varies from 0.35 metre per second to 3.50 metre per second, depending mainly on the height of the building. “The bed lift, the one that carries patients in hospitals, has the minimum speed at 0.35 metre per second. The average lift speed is 0.75 metres per second. You cannot have a high speed lift in a four-storey building,” says Gupta, who inspects lifts in south Delhi. Together, they have been on 15,000 elevators.
The best maintained lifts in the city, Gupta says, are the ones in five-star hotels and malls, and the worst maintained are in old housing societies in east Delhi. “It is mainly because of the lackadaisical attitude of the RWAs, where there is a lot of infighting regarding the use of maintenance funds. The upkeep of lifts is not their priority,” he says.
Not many people might know that it is the ‘Bombay Lift Act -1939 As Extended To NCT Of Delhi’ that governs the licensing of lifts in Delhi. People often flout safety norms simply because the fine for violation is `500 which, Gupta says, does not serve as a deterrent.
“We do not have the power to seal lifts, though we come across several cases where we feel it must be sealed to ensure safety. In fact, once we shut down a lift in a high-rise because it was very poorly maintained and it so happened that the very next day a person working in the building died of a heart attack. Our team was blamed for the delay in taking him to the hospital,” says Agarwal, adding that the Delhi Lift and Escalator Bill promises to change all that since it proposes a stringent monitoring mechanism and heavy penalties for violators — `10,000 (for residential establishments) to `1 lakh (commercial establishments).
The department is able to inspect only 60% of Delhi’s elevators because of the shortage of staff. “We have 18 people against a sanctioned strength of 34,” says Gupta.
Elevator rides, Gupta says, is smoother now as modern lifts operate on frequency controlled motors, unlike in the past when they operated on DC motors, that caused a jerk every time the elevator stopped. “The interiors are now much swankier with stainless steel with glass finish, LED lights, music, vocal calls; some even boast of LCD TVs. But I wish people could care as much about their maintenance,” he says.