Death toll rises to 15 in Mumbai tragedy; owner of illegal hoarding on the run

NDRF officials say more bodies are likely to be recovered from the spot; civic body orders action against all illegal hoardings in the city; advertising agency owner Bhavesh Bhinde and others booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder; condition of one injured person critical

Updated - May 15, 2024 12:05 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 01:17 am IST - MUMBAI

Rescue operations at a large hoarding that collapsed in Mumbai on Tuesday.

Rescue operations at a large hoarding that collapsed in Mumbai on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: PTI

A day after a massive 250-tonne iron hoarding fell at a petrol pump in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area during dust storms and unseasonal rains, the death toll in the incident has risen to 15, civic officials on Tuesday said. The billboard was illegal and no permission was taken to install it, the officials added.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) inspector Gaurav Chauhan said more bodies are likely to be recovered from the spot. “Since the 120 x 120 square feet iron hoarding has fallen on a petrol pump, we cannot use gasoline-powered cutter equipment and oxy-fuel cutter which can result in a blast or fire. We are trying to lift the hoarding and carefully cut through it to be able to pull out more people. We do not know how long it will take,” he added.

At least 12 fire engines and other vehicles were involved in the search and rescue operation since the incident on Monday.

Two NDRF teams, comprising 100 personnel, also joined the operation on Monday evening. Two heavy duty cranes and two hydra cranes were being used in the operation along with two earth-excavating machines and 25 ambulances, the civic officials said.

At least 75 people were injured in the incident and admitted to six hospitals in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane. Thirty-two of them have been discharged so far, officials said.

The condition of one of the injured persons admitted to the Rajawadi Hospital was critical, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) official said.

BMC action

Meanwhile, the BMC on Tuesday said it would take action against all hoardings erected without its permission in the city.

BMC Commissioner Bhushan Gagrani said, “We have ordered action against all illegal hoardings in the city, starting today. A case has been filed in the incident as no permission had been given for the hoarding. A complaint was also received that some trees had been cut down for this hoarding to be visible. We have filed a case in this regard too.”

“There are 1,025 hoardings in Mumbai city of which 573 are illuminated hoardings, 9,382 are non-illuminated and 70 are LED hoardings,” a BMC official said.

As the demolition of the remaining hoardings on the land in possession of the Government Railway Police (GRP) started in the evening, a senior official said no action had been taken earlier as a dispute was going on between the BMC and the railway police.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has announced a compensation of ₹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.

Billboard owner

Mumbai Police Commissioner Vivek Phansalkar assured strict action against those responsible for the incident.

The billboards on GRP land were installed by Ego Media, an advertising agency owned by Bhavesh Bhinde.

A case has been registered against Mr. Bhinde and others for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at Pant Nagar police station, another official said.

A police official from Pant Nagar, Ghatkopar East, said Mr. Bhinde is on the run. “We are trying to trace him. After the FIR was filed by the BMC, we went to look for him at his Mulund office and his home yesterday and today, but he was not there. His cell phone is switched off.”

Mr. Bhinde had contested the Assembly election as an Independent candidate from the Mulund constituency in 2009. According to his affidavit, there are 23 cases registered against him under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act and the Negotiable Instruments Act (for bounced cheques).

According to sources, the accused has signed several contracts with the Indian Railways and the BMC for erecting hoardings and banners over the years.

The company and others are also accused of poisoning and cutting down trees. The hoarding also made it to the Limca Book of Records as the ‘Largest hoarding’.

The certification said, “Ego Media Private Limited installed the largest hoarding in India at Government Railway Police Grounds, Ghatkopar East, Mumbai, Maharashtra, on 5 April 2023. It measures 1,583.068 sq m (17,040 sq ft) in area.”

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