KARACHI: "Beta mujhay bahar nikalo [Son, get me out of here]," yelped 60-year-old M* as half of his bulky body was stuck inside the elevator with the remaining half dangling out between the ground and first floors.
At around 11am on Monday, an unusual commotion was witnessed in the 17-year-old Empire Centre apartments in Gulistan-e-Jauhar. Residents were trying their best to cut the elevator cabin as the helpless old man called out to rescuers.
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"The man remained alive for around one hour and was pleading to get him out of there," said A*, one of the residents of the flats. He recalled that his last words were "Beta mujhay bahar nikalo." His misery was palpable in his eyes as his difficulty in breathing increased, shared A. Two hours later, his body was finally rescued: there was no heartbeat.
M* lived on the Empire Centre's fourth floor. He was making his way back to his apartment at around 11am. A very few people were around the elevator. "No one knows what exactly happened," said A*. According to him, there was a lot of noise and he went down to see half of M's body stuck inside and the other half hanging outside the elevator.
Apparently, the elevator suddenly malfunctioned, said A. M was halfway out of the elevator and it shot upwards with the doors fully open, pinning him against the door frame. "We have troublesome doors in all the lifts of the apartment," said A. They open and close randomly, he added.
Luckily, he pointed out, the lift used to move extremely slow and used to stop with a minor bump, which is why it halted between the two floors. Otherwise, said A, M's body would have broken into two pieces then and there.
According to another resident, R*, there was no liftman available at the time. The association office was closed and the residents were running here and there for help. Later, he said, cutters were called in to cut the lift. When the lift cutter managed to get inside the lift, R recalled that M was given water to drink. According to R, M's body parts, especially shoulders and the part of his back that got hit with the other floor had swelled up and he might have died due to asphyxiation.
The question of authority
Who is responsible for the safety and maintenance in such high-rise buildings?
The incident took place in the jurisdiction of Cantonment Board Faisal (CBF). The elected vice-chairman of CBF, Shahabuddin, who is also a resident of the same apartments, told The Express Tribune that issues pertaining to the maintenance of any building are handled by the residents or the elected association.
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An advocate of Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan, Summaiya Zaidi, pointed out that CBF's building bylaws' Section 22 speaks of the formation of a society or association. According to the laws, the maintenance of services and amenities at the project are to be looked after by allottees, who would form an association or society to handle the affairs of the project. To this, Shahabuddin responded that such associations are registered with them - the elected councillors of the cantonments - and they can dissolve the associations on the complaints of the residents.
Chapter three of the bylaws speak of the space requirement and abutting buildings. Section 9 of this chapter says that at least one lift for a building of 200 square yards and more than 46 feet high or ground-plus-three is compulsory and an additional lift shall be required for every additional two floors. Provision of cargo lifts may also be advised by the cantonment board in relation to the requirements of the building. However, the bylaws say nothing about the inspection of the building's maintenance by the CBF.
The head of the engineering department of the CBF, Asghar Afridi, said that once the building is completed and the completion certificate is awarded to the builder, it becomes the responsibility of the association or the builder to maintain the building and nothing under the law binds them to do so. However, he said they can take action on the complaint of residents.
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Meanwhile, the buildings that fall in the jurisdiction of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) have to follow the rules outlined in the Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulation, 2002, which speaks of the formation of cooperative societies for maintenance of buildings. According to the bylaws, the maintenance of services and amenities at a public sale project has to be looked after by the allottees or residents who shall form a cooperative society under the Sindh Co-op Societies Act, 1925. The builder shall transfer the rights of easement, appurtenances and other common rights to the cooperative society on the closing day of one year of obtaining the occupancy certificate from the authority.
Further, Section 9 of the regulations says that no lift should be of a capacity of less than six persons and an annual test certification of lifts must be obtained by a professional engineer of disciplines concerned. To this, the structural engineer of the SBCA, Ali Mehdi, said that that have limited staff and have to cover the entire province, which is why it is not possible for them to inspect each and every building. Also, he said, it is not their mandate to inspect the lifts of any building. However, they do inspect old buildings if any cracks appear on them. According to Shehri - Citizens for a Better Environment member Amber Alibhai, there should be regulations regarding the maintenance of the building and it should be checked if the building has obtained the completion or occupancy certificate before allotting the flats.
*Residents of the apartment and family of the deceased requested names to be withheld
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2017.