Maharashtra government launches inquiry into Mumbai hoarding collapse; owner absconding

The hoarding owner, Bhavesh Bhinde, already has over 20 different police cases against him, including a rape case.
Fire Brigade personnel seen cooling the site of the hoarding collapse at Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Fire Brigade personnel seen cooling the site of the hoarding collapse at Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, Tuesday, May 14, 2024.Photo | PTI

MUMBAI: Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday ordered a high-level inquiry into the collapse of a billboard at the Ghatkopar incident where 14 people were killed and 44 others were injured.

Police have filed a case under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 338 (negligence and hurting), 337 (endangering human life), and 34 (criminal act done by several people with common intention) against Bhavesh Bhinde at Pantnagar police station in Ghatkopar. Bhinde is the owner of Ego Media. He has over 20 different police cases against him, including a rape case. After the incident, Bhinde is on the run and his cellphone is also switched off.

The weight of this illegal hoarding was 250 tonnes, and over 100 people were trapped. However, local authorities rescued the 74 people.

Surprisingly, the hoarding which fell on the petrol station at Chheda Nagar in Ghatkopar was a 120X120 sq ft structure, which exceeded the BMC’s permissible size of 40x40 sq ft. The hoarding had garnered recognition in the Limca Book of Records and was erected on railway land.

As per a BMC note, Ego Media erected the hoarding, which the local police had allowed. An Assistant Police Commissioner (Admin) had given permission to erect 4 hoardings on behalf of the Commissioner of Railway Police, Mumbai, including the one that collapsed, but no official permission was obtained from the BMC, as per a civic official.

“The BMC allows hoardings of the size of 40x40 sq ft. However, the size of the illegal hoarding was 120 x 120 sq ft. On the complaint of a local citizen, the BMC wanted the illegal hoarding removed,” the civic body said.

BMC officials removed all three such illegal hoardings of this company. It said that this hoarding was erected without BMC permission.

BMC chief Bhushan Gagrani said that they ordered action against all illegal hoardings in the city. He said, “In the Chheda Nagar hoarding case, a complaint was received that some trees had been cut so this hoarding could be visible. We have filed a case in this regard and an inquiry has been carried out and the guilty will be punished," Gagrani said.

After this incident, the blame game started between the ruling party and Opposition. The BJP shared the picture of the owner with Uddhav Thackeray on social media, while the opposition circulated his picture with the ruling party leaders.

BJP leader Kirit Somaiya asked how permission for erecting the billboard was given by a police officer when the city civic body is the authority for it.

NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal, defending Uddhav Thackeray, said that the BMC is controlled by the state government while the railway is under the central government. "So why is Uddhav Thackeray, who has nothing to do with this incident, targeted?"

Bhinde, the owner of the Ego Media firm that erected the illegal hoarding, has big influence in BMC and railways and is allegedly known for bagging several contracts by greasing the hands of the officers.

He also contested the Maharashtra state election as an Independent candidate from the Mulund constituency in 2009 and his election affidavit revealed his past criminal records and 23 cases registered against him under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act and the Negotiable Instruments Act (for bounced cheques).

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the families of the people who were killed in the tragedy and has also said that the government will bear the cost of treatment for those who were injured.

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