Fix your pipes in the middle of the night

Aug 19, 2012, 08:22 IST | Phorum Dalal

Your chase to hunt down repairmen, electricians and plumbers in the middle of the night may just have ended, as housing societies are roping in essential services on a contract basis to provide residents with convenient, efficient services, and improve safety by cutting down on the number of strangers who enter the building premises

On August 10, 22 year-old Sajjad Ahmad Mughal alias Sajjad Pathan, a security guard at Himalayan Heights in Wadala (east), killed 25 year-old lawyer, Pallavi Purkayastha in her 16th floor flat. He deliberately tripped the power to her home and stole her house keys when he took an electrician with him to check on the situation earlier that day. 

Saifuddin Kaka looks on as an electrician fixes a loose panel. Pics/Shadab Khan

If the heinous murder at Wadala has put the fear of death into you about letting the neighbourhood electrician or plumber into your home the next time you need help with your geyser or your pipes, a new initiative by a few housing societies in the city may give you hope. In a bid to ensure the safety of their residents, housing societies are hiring one man full time — be it the electrician, plumber or carpenter — thereby giving you the benefit of immediate service, and cutting down on the number of undocumented workers entering the building.

All for residents
One such residency is The Imperial, a three year-old twin-tower at Tardeo by Shapoorji Dileep Thacker corporation, which has a full-fledged Facility Management service in place, which provides an army of workers to its residents. Raj Gandhi, general manager, facility management, Shapoorji Pallonji and Co Ltd, along with 265 staff members, is incharge of the welfare of the residents living in 165 out of its 228 flats. “We have foreigners, consulates, professionals, CEOs and MDs of companies residing here. We employ in-house electricians, plumbers, carpenters and AC mechanics on an eight-hour shift, round the clock,” says Gandhi.

A help desk is set up for residents to lodge their day-to-day complaints and requests.“The residents are not even required to communicate with the vendors directly. We coordinate their request,” adds Gandhi. A 40 year-old lawyer, who doesnot wish to be named , came to live on the 30th floor of The Imperial in February 2011. He is quick to admit that this fancy set-up works wonders for his home. “I have always lived in an old building and was reluctant to move to a big building, which, if left badly maintained without a system, can turn into a glorified chawl,” he says. But move he did, with his wife, three-year-old daughter and his boxer dog.

An electrician at work in an apartment at The Imperial in Tardeo

“The facility management service works really well for us. I don’t have to go hunting for an electrician or a plumber at odd hours. All I have to do is call the help desk,” says he, who doesn’t think twice before leaving his door ajar when he steps out to take his dog out for a quick stroll, thanks to the security.
Being hired full time by a housing society is also a step up for essential service providers, as they are exposed to a better work culture. “Each and every person working in The Imperial Towers has a police registration and ID card. We follow government labour rules and provide the staff with ESI and PF,” adds Gandhi.

One-point contact
For many building societies, it was the hassle of chasing 10 different servicemen that encouraged them to sign a full-time contract with an electrician and plumber. Take the case of Infinity Towers in Mazgaon. Keeping a tab on the workers entering the building premises was getting out of hand, explains Saifuddin Kaka, a resident of the two-and-a-half year-old building. Eight months ago, they signed a contract with an electrician, and a plumber to fix all their problems. “We know whose neck to catch now,” says the 51 year-old resident light-heartedly. “He comes to the building twice a week, and the rest of the days , he is just a phone call away. We don’t have to call 10 different people,” explains Kaka.

Sarfee Kanchwala, the electrician, knows the wiring lines of every flat on every floor and the main unit lines, too. He is paid Rs 2,200 for the whole month. “We pay him for any material he purchases, too.” Having one electrician is safer too, says Kaka. “It’s a great way to cut down on the number of workers entering the premises,” he adds.

Late night shifts
Rajesh Dalal, the 52 year-old interior designer and building treasurer of Amarnath Towers, Seven Bungalows, Andheri (west), says, “There should be a system in place to keep the society safe and up to date. With so many families in the building, the electrician and plumber get enough work, though we allow them to do jobs outside. We pay them around Rs 2,500 per month. Residents pay him for the jobs they get done in their house, but he charges a nominal amount.”

For the past eight years, electrician Mahinder Yadav used to stay back in the 10 year-old building’s premises even at night, in case of an emergency. “This month, after we didn't renew his contract, we realised how much we missed his services. We are thinking of going back to the night shift. Our building is a long way off from the main road and no electrician will come so far at night. This electrician has been a part of the building work even before the residents came to stay. He is very reliable and safety is not any issue,”  says Dalal.

The help desk at The Imperial in Tardeo

Forty year-old Yadav says he knows all the people in the building and they know him. “So it is easy to get work done. I am allowed to take other work on as well, which works in my favour. I earn around Rs 15,000 per month,” says Yadav. Prakash Shetty, in-charge of the society office at Sterling Apartments, at Peddar Road, that has an in-house facility management in place for the past 40 years, says the known devil is better than an unknown one. “We know that the plumbers, carpenters and electrician of the building have their families living in Mumbai, and have their identity proofs as well, says Shetty.

Safe or not?
Some residents, including Chitra Wadhwani, a 48 year-old resident of Nutan Nagar in Bandra who got an in-house electrician three years ago, believe that having one electrician or plumber is safer. “The electrician’s identity documents and police registration are with the building authorities. All our urgent work is attended to efficiently and it saves a lot of time too,” says Wadhwani. Valerian Saldanha, chairman of Quarter Deck building in Borivli, whose building does not have this facility says they are likely to work for larger buildings. “We have 16 flats and everyone calls their own service man. But, having one person will actually make life easier for residents as they have to keep an eye on just one person. It is always safe to keep a watch on one person ,” says the 55 year-old resident.

Meanwhile, Nishita Seth, 52 year-old resident of Ashoka Garden society in Sewri, feels uncomfortable with the idea of having in-house essential services staff in the building. “In our building, we have plumbers, carpenters and electricians and they have been hired from well-known agencies. We also keep rotating the staff so that one person does not get too familiar. The security keeps a close watch on them.”

Clearly, the city’s housing societies have woken up to the convenience and safety of having dedicated, in-house repairmen. The figures tell the same story. “In the past three years,” says Babulal Vishwakarma, who runs a contract agency in Malad, “There has been a substantial rise in the demand for contract-based electricians among housing societies. We have supplied electricians to around 20 buildings in the past three years.” The contracts range from two-hour daily shifts, where the electrician will visit the building at a particular time every day, to a 24/7 service, where the electrician will go to the building when called at any given time. If you hire an electrician on a morning to night shift, it would cost around Rs 35,000,” says Vishwakarma.

What is a facility management unit?
CEO of Ashok Tower, Shailendra Nath, says the focus of Facility Management is to maintain the long-term value of the asset. "If you look at a few of the old buildings which were once in good shape, their property has depreciated over the years. This is because they try to cut down on short-term costs. Today, many residential and commercial structures are similar — they have the same infrastructure such as water distribution systems and high-end elevators.

So, the facility management system works to maintain and enhance the life of the complex. However, at Ashoka Towers, Parel (East), we provide an emergency support for the residents. For example, if the electricity of a particular flat goes off, the staff will check the situation and identify the problem. If it is an internal wiring fault, the resident will have to get it repaired one her / his own." 

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