Accused in hoarding crash case named in 23 criminal cases; was arrested on rape charges

Accused in hoarding crash case named in 23 criminal cases; was arrested on rape charges

Mumbai | Bhavesh Bhinde, the owner of the advertising agency which had allegedly put up the hoarding that crashed on a petrol pump in Ghatkopar area, has 23 criminal cases registered against him and was recently arrested on rape charges, police said on Tuesday evening.

After Monday's hoarding crash in which at least 14 people died, he has been absconding, while a case under IPC section 304 (causing death by negligence) was registered against him at Pantnagar police station in the city.

In January, Bhinde was arrested in a rape case registered with Mulund police station, but later secured bail, a police official said.

Bhinde, owner of Ego Media, had also contested the Maharashtra assembly elections in 2009, he added.

According to BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, another firm of Bhinde's had been blacklisted by the commercial department of the Indian Railways in 2017-18 after several complaints of installing illegal hoardings were filed against it.

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.

Death toll at 14; search and rescue operations continue

Mumbai | The search and rescue operation at the site of the collapse of a giant hoarding in Ghatkopar continued even 30 hours after the incident and may go on for a few more hours, officials said on late Tuesday evening as the death toll in the tragedy rose to 14.

Victims trapped under as much as 90 percent of the 120 x 120 feet hoarding have been rescued but search was yet to be conducted under its central part, said an official of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

The illegal hoarding that stood on a piece of land in possession of Government Railway Police (GRP) crashed on a petrol pump in Chheda Nagar area on Monday evening when the city was hit by dust storms and unseasonal rains. At least 89 persons were extricated from under the hoarding, of whom 14 were declared dead while the other 75 were injured and undergoing treatment, officials said.

"We want to ensure that nobody is left under the hoarding," the BMC official said, adding that the rescue team was planning to lift and cut a part of it so as to gain access to its centre.

The search and rescue operation was likely to get over by 2 am on Wednesday and they have called for additional cranes, he told PTI.

An NDRF official said the rescue team tried to lift the hoarding with two cranes of 500 MT capacity, but did not proceed considering safety concerns. The main concern is the possibility of fire as the petrol pump has underground fuel storage tanks and a CNG refueling facility.

"We could not use gas cutters as there is a chance of fire due to sparks. Even while using cranes and other machinery, we were continuously spraying water," a Mumbai Fire Brigade official said.

The five iron pillars of the hoarding got uprooted along with chunks of its concrete foundation when it came crashing down, he said.

The BMC, meanwhile, started demolition of other hoardings near the petrol pump, also located on the GRP land.

Municipal Commissioner Bhushan Gagrani said the BMC had not given any permission for the hoarding. It had been conducting correspondence (with the owner and concerned agencies) regarding it for the last two years, and also lodged a police complaint for the poisoning of trees on its periphery, he said.

"A stand was taken that we (GRP) do not need permission (for a hoarding on railway land) under the Railway Act. The BMC's response was that it was not legally correct. And hence, in the whole episode, so far there was no action," the commissioner claimed.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Vivek Phansalkar assured strict action against those responsible. A case has been registered against Bhavesh Bhinde, the owner of Ego Media Private Limited which had installed the hoarding, and others for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the IPC at Pant Nagar police station, another official said. Bhinde remained absconding.

Two NDRF teams, comprising 100 personnel, 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 NDRF teams used two cranes weighing 500 tonnes each to pull up the hoarding from both sides. After creating a gap of about 3.5 to 4 feet, the rescuers crouched into the tiny space to look for people trapped underneath, NDRF assistant commandant Nikhil Mudholkar said.

An Assistant Police Commissioner (Admin) had given permission for erecting four hoardings on behalf of the Commissioner of Railway Police, Mumbai, including the one which collapsed, but no official permission or NOC was obtained from the BMC, as per a civic official.

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

The former MP also claimed permissions for the hoarding and a petrol pump (where the billboard collapsed) were given when Uddhav Thackeray was the chief minister of Maharashtra. Had the then director general of police been strict, such a hoarding would not have come up, he told reporters.

Somaiya said the permission on paper was given for a 40 feet hoarding whereas the billboard which collapsed was 120 feet tall.

"I believe that there are similar 400 hoardings in various parts of Mumbai, which are exceeding their size limits and standing on a weak foundation like the one in Ghatkopar," he said.

The BMC had earlier said that it issued a notice to M/s Ego Media Private Limited for installing the hoarding that collapsed on the petrol pump. A senior civic official said the assistant municipal commissioner of the N-ward had issued a notice to an advertisement agency to remove these hoardings with immediate effect, but the civic body has not received any response so far.

Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra posted a clip on his X handle showing the hoarding collapsing and said such an incident was unacceptable.

"And we're a city trying to transform itself into a modern metropolis. CM Shinde has ordered a probe into all hoardings. Stringent rules must follow," he added.

CM Shinde visited the incident spot late Monday evening and ordered a structural audit of all hoardings in the city.

"The hoardings, if found illegal and dangerous, would be removed immediately," he said.

"It is a very unfortunate incident. The government will probe it, and the people responsible will face action," Shinde told reporters.

He announced an aid of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each person killed in the incident.

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