Mumbai hoarding collapse | Death toll rises to 16

Rescue workers retrieve two more bodies from a car at the site where a 120x120 feet hoarding came crashing down on a petrol pump at Chheda Nagar on Monday evening; search operations under way nearly 55 hours after incident

Updated - May 16, 2024 10:31 am IST

Published - May 16, 2024 01:46 am IST - Mumbai

A damaged car being removed on Wednesday from the site where a huge hoarding collapsed due to heavy rain and strong winds at Ghatkopar

A damaged car being removed on Wednesday from the site where a huge hoarding collapsed due to heavy rain and strong winds at Ghatkopar | Photo Credit: ANI

Rescue workers on Wednesday night retrieved two more bodies from a car at the site where a 120x120 feet hoarding came crashing down on a petrol pump at Chheda Nagar in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area following gusty winds and unseasonal rain on Monday evening, taking the death toll to 16. Search operations are still under way nearly 55 hours after the illegal hoarding collapsed. So far, 75 people have been rescued from the site.

Also Read: Mumbai hoarding collapse rings alarm bells on Hyderabad outskirts

“It is one of the most challenging operations we have ever done. Until all the vehicles stuck under the debris are not checked, we won’t know the total count of bodies. We have to be extra careful before taking any step as inflammable material at the petrol pump could cause a fire. This is the only reason for the delay in rescue operations,” National Disaster Response Force official Gaurav Chauhan said.

According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the hoarding stood on a piece of land in possession of the Government Railway Police (GRP). The police probe has pointed out that Ego Media Private Limited, the agency which put up the hoarding, failed to meet the standards set for soil checks and structural audits of the structure’s pillars.

“We have asked the BMC and the GRP to provide the necessary documents for further investigation. We will also question how permissions were granted to the agency though it was blacklisted in 2018. We are now on the lookout for the owner of the agency, Bhavesh Bhinde, who is still absconding,” an official from the Pant Nagar police said.

Three notices issued

The BMC had issued three notices to the agency over the past year, but no action was taken against it. A notice was issued in March 2023 over a lapse in paying a licence fee of ₹6.14 crore. A second notice was sent on May 2 this year, mentioning that the complaint was filed against the advertiser regarding cutting down of trees or poisoning them to prevent obstructions in front of the hoarding. Both notices did not speak of legality or structural violations and no action was taken.

The third notice was issued on May 13, hours before the hoarding collapsed. The notice stated, “The illegal advertisement panels were erected without acquiring any permission from us [BMC] and this is a violation under Section 388 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation.”

“The rules — size limit of 40x40 feet and 70-metre gap between hoardings — were not followed. We have been sending notices to the agency and the GRP over multiple violations and to remove the hoarding. We relied on the GRP to act. We are now removing other hoardings in the area,” a BMC official said.

Blame game

The incident has set off a blame game between leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi and ruling Mahayuti, with each side blaming the other for the collapse.

A photo of Mr. Bhinde with Shiv Sena (UBT) chief and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray went viral on social media, attracting accusations from the Mahayuti. BJP’s Kirit Somaiya allegedly blamed Mr. Thackeray for granting permissions during his tenure. Sharing the photo on X, BJP MLA Ram Kadam said, “You can see who gave protection to these illegal hoardings.”

Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut retorted saying that the BJP and the Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde faction are ruling the BMC, so they are responsible for the incident.

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