Every once in a while, there are reports of accidents at India’s amusement parks that elicit shock and indignation but are soon forgotten. The most recent one to grab eyeballs was the collapse of a 50-foot-high joyride at the Kishkinta Amusement Park near Chennai on May 11, which caused the death of a 25-year-old man and injured 10 other employees of the theme park.
The joyride, called Disco Dancer, had been out of operation since the Chennai floods of November-December and was undergoing a trial run before it could be opened to the public. However, instead of using dummies, ride operators allegedly forced 25 Kishkinta employees – including workers at food stalls – to test the ride. Some workers alleged that when the ride began, they heard some unusual noises from the machine and asked the operators to stop it, but their cries were ignored.
The proprietor and manager of the Kishkinta park were arrested on charges of negligence shortly thereafter, but that’s where the story ended. There was no further word on whether amusement parks would be made more accountable for such incidents or forced to adhere to tighter safety norms.
A game without rules
There are no specific laws governing the amusement park industry in India, though government licences and period safety audits are mandatory. The industry has formulated safety standards, which have been adopted as guidelines by the Bureau of Indian Standards, but in many places, government agencies reportedly do not have experts to inspect rides and ensure these standards are met.
Joyride mishaps: far too many?
According to the Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries – a non-profit, industry-run body – the ratio of victims of major joyride accidents to visitors is as low as one is to 15 million. “This is probably the lowest the world over,” a spokesperson for the Association said in an email to Scroll.in.
A quick search of fatal accidents at amusement parks in India, however, reveals that they occur far more frequently than they should.
In Tamil Nadu alone, since 2006, there have been at least five deaths at amusement parks in and around Chennai, excluding the most recent one at Kishkinta park. Three of these were cases of drowning, indicating the absence of adequate or vigilant life guards at swimming pools in water parks. In 2007, an employee of MGM Dizzee World on the East Coast Road died after he was hit by a merry-go-round, and in 2013, a 22-year-old visitor died at Chennai’s EVP World theme park after a violent jerk threw her off the seat of her joyride, called Octopus.
Adlabs Imagica, a theme park near Mumbai that was launched with much fanfare in 2013, has seen at least two major accidents in the past three years. In 2014, a mother and daughter suffered severe injuries when a roller coaster they were seated on came to a sudden halt and tilted to the side. Last year, a four-year-old girl drowned in a wave pool at Imagica’s water park.
In addition to permanent theme parks, India also has an abundance of popular travelling melas (local fun fairs) with portable joyrides that are reassembled at every halt. “Because our rides are detachable, we have to be even more vigilant in our daily inspection of all the nuts and bolts in the machines,” said Imran Patel, the owner of Patel Amusement Parks, a company that supplies rides to melas across western Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Despite this, mechanical glitches and accidents aren’t unheard of. In 2001, three people were killed at a funfair in Faridabad when an electric 20-seater swing jerked to a halt in mid-air.
Often, safety considerations at local melas are taken far too lightly by both the public and the ride operators. This video of an Indian fun fair, for instance, shows riders standing in heaps on an electric swing instead of being strapped into their seats – something that should never have been allowed by ride operators.
Guidelines, but no law
In the absence of a national law governing amusement parks and their safety, theme park operators in India are required to get licences from various local authorities, such as the public works department, the fire department, the police, the entertainment department and others. For travelling fairs, a new set of permissions are needed at every location; for permanent theme parks, the frequency with which licenses are renewed and site inspections conducted vary from state to state.
To ensure safety and stability of rides, permanent theme parks follow a detailed set of guidelines formulated by the Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries. These guidelines have also been adopted by the union government’s Bureau of Indian Standards, applicable to both permanent and portable amusement parks. While certifications given by the bureau are valuable, they are not mandatory.
Besides the occasional inspections by local authorities, then, theme park operators are left to themselves to conduct safety checks. “There are regular in-house checks, audits and inspections done by every park as recommended by the manufacturer [of the rides] and drafted by the in-house maintenance department,” said the Association spokesperson.
“The majority of theme parks have at least one mechanical engineer and one electrical engineer on site at all times, and they get third-party inspections done,” said Anuj Sarin, the technical officer of production and managing director at Hindustan Amusement Machines, a prominent manufacturer of theme park rides in India.
According to Sarin, 95% of amusement park accidents happen because visitors are often irresponsible and don’t follow instructions strictly given to them or displayed at the entrance of a ride. “For instance, people try to jump off rides before they can come to a complete halt, or take off their lap bars before the ride ends,” said Sarin.
Those in the amusement park industry, however, admit that accident rates could be brought down further. “Whenever there is any unfortunate incident, everyone in the industry tries to learn lessons from it,” said Sarin. “We all take accidents very seriously.”