At Signature Bridge, lifts that didn’t lift off
Radha Mohan doesn’t mind the long hours of his job. A security guard at northwest Delhi’s Signature Bridge, the 50-year-old finds it more difficult to answer questions on when the elevators will start ferrying people to the viewing gallery atop the pylon of the bridge.
“Every day, at least 100 people ask me about the observation deck; many of them believe that there is a restaurant up there. For the past one year, I have been telling them that it will open in three months. The truth is I do not when and if at all that lift will open for public,” he says, pointing towards the closed doors of the elevators, up a short flight of stairs from the road.
Opened in 2018, the Capital’s Signature Bridge, India’s first asymmetrical cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge spanning the Yamuna river at the Wazirabad section has a viewing deck at a height of about 154 metres. For comparison, the iconic Qutub Minar is about 73 metres high.
Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), a Delhi government agency that executed the project, plans to transform the bridge into a tourist destination at a cost of ₹200 crore. Facilities such as parking, an open-air plaza, a circular air-conditioned eatery, a children’s play zone, and a park with an open gym on the western end of the bridge (towards the Outer Ring Road) have already come up, and are likely to be inaugurated soon.
But a ticketed ride for tourists to this glass viewing gallery, which was touted as an important part of the Signature Bridge experience, has failed to lift off.
The reason: elevators that aren’t exactly perpendicular to the ground. Or more accurately, lifts that are tilted.
Officials in the electrical inspectorate of the Delhi government’s labour department, responsible for inspecting and granting licences to operate lifts across the city, are not amused at the inclined lifts inside the pylon of the bridge.
The Signature Bridge has four lifts, with a capacity of 500kg each, installed at a cost of ₹12 crore on both sides of the pylon. Because the pylon is oblique in shape, two of the lifts in the lower arms of the pylon are inclined at a 60-degree angle; and the other two on the upper ends are at an angle of 81 degrees.
A kink in the plan
So far, officials in the labour department have inspected and cleared around 50,000 lifts across the city, but they’ve never encountered such a case before.
“These lifts defy the very definition of a lift in the law that is followed in Delhi,” says a labour department official, who wished to remain anonymous.
The official cited above isn’t referring to a flaw in the design. Inclined lifts are common in modern architecture across the world.
Instead, he is referring to the colonial-era law, Bombay Lift Act, 1939, adopted by Delhi in 1942. “It will take nothing sort of an amendment in the law to allow us to give permission to these inclined lifts,” the official adds.
Indeed, the Act defines lifts as a “hoisting mechanism” “designed to carry passengers” in a “cage” that “moves in a substantially vertical direction”.
The company, which has installed the lifts at the Signature Bridge, says it has installed such lifts across countries, but this is the first in India. “The inclined lifts are very popular abroad... We are now installing another one in Shimla in a housing society on a hill,” says Sandeep Gupta, director of Maspero India. The firm has a joint venture with Maspero Elevatori, an Italian company that makes elevators.
The parent company’s website has an entire section on inclined lifts. It cheekily says: “There is no slope our inclined elevators cannot climb...”
But Maspero India did not anticipate that a colonial-era law will be a hurdle in operating the lifts for tourists. Currently the lifts are only allowed to be used by engineers for servicing bridge cables and other systems. “We never thought that the inclined lifts would face this kind of an angle-related hurdle. But it is not for us to obtain a licence to use the lift for tourists. We have fulfilled all our contractual obligations, and now we are looking after its maintenance,” says Gupta.
Suspended, in between
Now, DTTDC is hoping for an early resolution. Pawan Kumar, chief project manager at DTTDC, says the agency has sought permission a few times in the last year to use the lifts for tourism.
“The labour department says there is no provision under which they can grant the licence to inclined lifts, but they have assured us that they will try to find a solution,” he says.
To this, a senior officer in the labour department says there are also other issues that have to be addressed first. “We have pointed out a few other safety-related issues. There are no stairs to evacuate the passengers in case of an emergency. The monkey ladder they have installed simply cannot be used by common people. Let them sort out these issues, and then we will decide what to do next,” the official who wished to remain anonymous says.
When asked if the labour department will recommend amending the law, he adds, “I cannot say anything at the moment.”
Does it matter?
The lifts may or may not open for the public, but the Signature Bridge is already a tourist destination. On a muggy monsoon afternoon, there are youngsters, families and couples thronging the site. One of the visitors is 26-year-old Vineet Chopra, a resident of Rohini, who has come to the bridge with two of his friends to celebrate his birthday. “ We are waiting for some more friends to come; it is my birthday and we will cut the cake here once they come,” he says.
“This happens here all the time... I have had a hard time dealing with them. When the lift doors are open, many people want to enter and have a look inside. I keep shouting at them to stay away from the lift,” says another security guard at the bridge.
Midway through this conversation, a car stops and its passengers ask Radha Mohan, standing nearby, the question he hates answering.
“Is the lift open for people?”
“It will open in five months,” says Mohan, who may have just extended his fictional timeline by two months for some reprieve.
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