CONSUMER RIGHTS
Unsafe hotels
Pushpa Girimaji

Hotels need to follow safety norms
Hotels need to follow safety norms

The tragic and untimely death of a young boy after he fell from one of the upper floors of a five-star hotel in Delhi last month should come as a warning to all hotels. Unlike before, today hotels are being increasingly used for birthday bashes, marriages and other parties. This means that hotels will see a much larger number of small children, who in a group, tend to run up and down the stairs, and generally get into situations where there could be accidents.

Hotels have to increasingly pay heed to safety, keeping in mind not just an adult clientele, but also small children. For example, the height of the walls or railing on every floor should be carefully considered to ensure that small children trying to look down do not accidentally fall. Similarly, railings along the stairs should be so constructed that there are no large gaps between grills or wooden bars, through which children could easily slip through and fall. Considering that children tend to be curious and naughty at that age, every care must be taken by hotels to ensure that there is some supervision.

Lifts and escalators are particularly attractive to children and unless parents strictly forbid it, children tend to go up and down the elevators and escalators ó another danger area-particularly with escalators, unless there are hotel attendants keeping an eye on children at these spots. Similarly, night parties by pool side require that the pool be cordoned off with a net so that no child strays into the area or falls into the pool by accident. Hotels should also pay particular attention to the safety and comfort of physically-challenged persons .

In fact, whether itís the construction of the hotel itself, its interiors and d`E9cor or its services, hotels need to pay more attention to safety in general. In the recent years, some serious fatal accidents have amply highlighted this fact. Last year for example, a 26-year old woman died in a five-star hotel in Mumbai, when a glass pane from a window got detached and fell on her, slicing her head into two, even as she was walking towards the hotelís swimming pool.

Similarly, a case by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission throws light on how carelessness or negligence in a hotel can cost life. In the case of Manisha Chhabra Vs The Director, Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation, the honeymoon at the hotel turned into a nightmare and a tragedy for the newly weds, thanks to the carelessness of the hotel. Manisha and her husband checked into the hotel on December 19, 1993, at about 8.30 pm. Soon after, her husband noticed a small door on the western side that was just latched. Assuming it to be a storage space or balcony, he opened it and stepped out, only to fall to the ground 35 feet below. He was admitted to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

Manishaís contention was that the hotel should have at least put a grill or a balcony outside the door to prevent such a fall. Or locked the door and put a warning on it. Absence of any of these measures constituted negligence, she argued. The apex consumer court awarded Rs 5 lakh, along with 10 per cent interest from the date of the accident till the date of the award in 2003.

At a time when our tourism industry is growing and even Indians have begun to travel within the country extensively, every effort must be made to ensure that the services provided by the travel industry in general, and the hotels in particular, are absolutely safe in every respect. In fact, in the United States, safety specialists provide third party safety accreditation to hotels. Indian hotels too need to develop such a system or else they may end up paying huge amounts as compensation for loss or injury caused as a result of the hotelís negligence.

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