The False Ceiling: Trying to dig deeper

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“It fell right next to my leg.” “Luckily, it happened on a day I was asleep the other way,” remarked a resident of Aravali hostel about his lucky escape from injury. He is one of the many witnesses of ceiling falls in the past year. These incidents have been occurring chronically in the corridors of hostels and buildings inside our institute and it was after an incident occurred in the Central Library during the majors on the 29th of April that we at the BSP decided to analyse this issue in greater detail. Is it a significant problem that demands the attention of the authorities?

Over the 40+ years of IIT Delhi’s existence, we can safely say that it has been able to keep up with the times. From having just 4 hostels in the 1970s, to 13 in 2010 (and 15 in 2020), it has been a story of progress and development. But can we be happy about this progress, if it is revealed that the same infrastructure poses a risk to the well-being of students and faculty alike?

To objectively analyse the issue of ceiling falls in IIT Delhi, we realised that we would need an extensive record of such incidents in the institute. Our journalists thus first approached the officers at the Security Control Room, who maintain a log of all incidents within the walls of IIT. On examining these records, we found that they lacked details. Worse, many incidents that had occurred did not find a mention. Unsatisfied, we decided to approach the IIT community itself for more information in the form of a survey. The following is a summary of the responses we obtained.

Breakup of ceiling fall incidents

There were a total of 17 verified incidents between May 2018 to April 2019, with Aravali and Girnar recording 3 apiece. The following were the affected spots in the Institute area:

  • 2nd Floor, Central Library (Amul-side)
  • Office of Prof. Divya Dwivedi, MS 617
  • UG Lab, Chemical Engineering, Block II 188A
  • MS Staircase, Second Floor, Behind CCD

There exists a centralized system of reporting of incidents in the Institute. According to the established protocol, every incident concerning the safety of residents inside the campus, minor or major, is reported to the Security Control Room by the guard present at the location. Once the security control room has been notified, it is the security officer who contacts the required agency. Naturally, records of all security incidents should be found at the security control office.

On the need for investigation of ceiling fall incidents

Out of the 17 incidents that occurred, 15 were reported to the responsible guard. However, the record that was shown to our journalists at the security control room did not include some of these. What is more shocking to discover is that only 5 out of the 15 incidents, or 33% of incidents, led to an investigation at the spot. Put in such a situation, it became imperative for us as journalists to highlight the spots which need to be investigated. This would serve a dual purpose:

  1. For authorities to take action
  2. For concerned students to raise requests with hostel authorities

The following is the list of the incidents that need further investigation. They have been categorized according to the urgency with which they need to be investigated. This has been determined based on whether they were investigated at all and the number of incidents in the vicinity of the spot.

Investigation is of utmost importance as the underlying cause of the incident can point towards several other vulnerable spots in the vicinity. This can be demonstrated in the particular case of a ceiling fall in a ground floor washroom of Girnar Hostel, which resulted in an unfortunate grievous injury to the head of an individual. It was discovered in the ensuing investigation that the ceiling was damp and thus weakened, a cause shared by several other incidents in the same hostel.

As per the responses of the survey, the probable cause of these incidents lies amongst:

  • Structural deficiencies in the material used for construction
  • External disturbances such as doors crashing against the wall
  • Dampness in walls

An ideal investigation should thus include a detailed examination of the entire area. Damp spots, if found, can be brought down artificially before it leads to an incident. Incidents due to inferior materials in construction need to be evaluated and implemented in future constructions on campus. What better time than now, when we have 9 new buildings under construction?

On the need for documentation of ceiling fall incidents

The existing mechanism of reporting incidents to the Security Control Room is woefully inadequate. Not only are the records maintained imprecise, but also incomplete and unfit for examination by a third person. The lack of documentation presents an obvious hindrance in the widescale recognition of the issue. Consequently, this phenomenon remains unchecked and major incidents fail to reach the notice of the people responsible for the infrastructure in the institute. With respect to the ceiling falls in the old hostels, there is a recurring pattern of roofs bulging due to water seepage, which ultimately weakens the foundation and leads to ceiling falls. Such incidents can be easily averted in the future if similar patterns are recognized, but it can only happen if there is a mechanism in place which makes certain that the causes and impact of the incidents are recorded and maintained.

Given the nature of this issue, we propose the following mechanism:

  1. Once the incident is reported to the hostel administration, it be communicated to the security control room, who log the date and location of the incident.
  2. The logs be communicated to the Institute Engineer Office every week, where engineers can be dispatched to the concerned location.
  3. To ensure accountability and facilitate decision making, Institute Engineer Office be mandated to inform the Dean’s office every month about the occurred incidents and the investigations performed.

It is not an arduous task to solve this seemingly unimportant problem, a sleeper-cell of sorts. We hope that we have stimulated some of you and the administration and wish for a safer campus.

Journalists: Sakshi Mirge, Prakhar Sharma

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