A fortnight ago, residents of a multistoried housing complex in Gurugram came together to voice their protest against poor maintenance of elevators in the housing society. During the protest against the builder, the residents described their harrowing experiences in malfunctioning lifts and complained that they often got stuck in the stalled elevators for hours.Protests such as this by those living in high-rise buildings have become commonplace these days — not just in Gurugram but in other parts of the country too. And these rallies indicate that poor maintenance of lifts by builders is becoming an endemic problem in the country. Besides, it brings to fore the poor enforcement of laws pertaining to elevators.Besides regular maintenance of elevators, several states in the country – such as Haryana, Karnataka and Maharashtra for example — have made ‘Automatic Rescue Device’ mandatory in all elevators. If a lift stalls on account of an electrical or a mechanical problem, the ARD ensures that the lift automatically moves to the nearest floor and the door is opened to ensure safe evacuation of those on it. Yet, builders flout the law with impunity.Although the law does not mandate it, consumer safety demands that ARD be installed in all lifts — these do not even cost must. In fact, compared to the number of lives it can save, the cost is almost negligible. But in the absence of this device, many lift users have, over the years, died or sustained injuries during crude rescue operations by untrained personnel. Hence, I would advise all residents of high-rise buildings to demands that (a) ensure that ARD is installed in the lift they use and (b) the lifts are regularly maintained and a record of this is made available to all residents. In case a builder – or whoever is responsible for maintenance of the lifts – fails to do so, a complaint must be filed against them to the state enforcement agency. And if the authorities fail to take action, a complaint must be filed with the consumer, wherein the enforcement agency too is held accountable.As one of the landmark observations in this area, I would like to quote the order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission delivered in March 2014 (Ambience Island Apartment Owners Vs Raj Singh Gehlot and others, Op No 93 of 2004). In this case, the grievance of 66 residents of Ambience Lagoon was that a) the builders had installed only 50% of the promised number of elevators in the four blocks in which they lived (b) they were promised high-speed lifts, but the ones installed were very slow and prone to frequent breakdowns from the very beginning (c) despite collecting maintenance charges from residents, the lifts were not being serviced, resulting in stalling of the lifts (d) there was also no automatic rescue device in these lifts.The National Commission took a very serious view of the attitude of the builders/promoters and asked them to return 70% of the maintenance charge collected from the 66 residents along with 9% interest — calculated from the year 2002 till the date of the order. This added up to ₹88.83 crore, according to the residents.The Commission also directed the three opposite parties to ensure regular maintenance of the lifts and its records, failing which they would need to pay a hefty penalty every month. The Commission also imposed costs of ₹5,000 to be paid to each of the 66 complainants. The elevator company, in turn, had to pay ₹2,000 to each of the 66 complainants.This case should encourage victims of poorly maintained lifts to seek damages from builders through the intervention of the consumer court and also get the court to order appropriate directions to the builder. I would advise consumers to also include the state enforcement agencies in these complaints for their failure to ensure compliance with the law.