Hoarding crash: Ad firm director held; toll up to 16, ex-GM of ATC, his wife among dead

Wreckage of the vehicles that were damaged after a 100-foot tall illegal billboard fell on a petrol pump due to rains and dust storm, in Ghatkopar area of Mumbai.
Wreckage of the vehicles that were damaged after a 100-foot tall illegal billboard fell on a petrol pump due to rains and dust storm, in Ghatkopar area of Mumbai.

Mumbai | An absconding director of the advertising firm which installed the collapsed hoarding in Mumbai's Ghatkopar was arrested on Thursday from Rajasthan, while the death toll in the crash mounted to 16 after bodies of a former GM of Mumbai airport ATC and his wife were retrieved from the wreckage, officials said.

Bhavesh Bhinde, director of Ego Media Pvt Ltd, the advertising agency behind the massive billboard that crashed onto a petrol pump in suburban Ghatkopar on Monday evening during sudden dusty winds and unseasonal rains, was arrested from Udaipur, a police official said.

A team of the Mumbai police's crime branch apprehended Bhinde, who was on the run after the tragedy three days ago, he said.

The search and rescue operation at the hoarding collapse site was called off at around 10 am on Thursday, an official of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said, hours after two more bodies were retrieved from the mangled metal wreckage.

The bodies, taken out from the debris shortly after midnight on Wednesday, were later identified as those of former general manager (GM) of Mumbai ATC Manoj Chansoria (60) and his wife Anita (59). They were missing since Monday evening when they left for Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh from the ATC guest house in western Mumbai in a car.

The 120 feet x 120 feet billboard, which crashed during dusty winds and rains, was illegally installed and it stood on a piece of land in possession of the Government Railway Police (GRP), according to officials.

A Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) official said the bodies of Chansoria and his wife were in a “decomposed state” and taken to the nearby civic-run Rajawadi Hospital around 1 am.

On Tuesday night, Chansoria's mobile phone location was tracked to the petrol pump on which the hoarding had collapsed a day earlier. It is believed Chansoria had stopped at the petrol pump for refuelling his car when the billboard crashed.

BMC commissioner Bhushan Gagrani said the search and rescue operation at the crash site, which went on for 66 hours, has been completed.

The civic chief said they have thoroughly checked the site to ensure no more person was trapped there. Now, the work of clearing the debris will continue.

Speaking to reporters, Gagrani said 16 people have died in the tragedy.

As many as 75 people were injured in the crash.

He said agencies like BMC, Mumbai police, BPCL, NDRF, Mumbai fire brigade, and Mahanagar Gas participated in the rescue operation and completed it “maintaining proper coordination”.

Action is being taken on a “war footing” to remove illegal hoardings in the metropolis, the IAS officer said.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya alleged that no tender process was followed for the crashed hoarding and the Maharashtra government got virtually nothing from the contract while the owner earned more than Rs 100 crore in revenue.

Bhinde got the permission to install the billboard only because he was close to MLA Sunil Raut, brother of Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut, he alleged.

"The revenue from the hoarding was over Rs 100 crore, the revenue from the fuel station (on which it collapsed) was Rs 25 crore. The state government gets nothing. Couple of crores transferred to Maharashtra police Kalyan Nidhi (welfare fund)," Somaiya claimed in a letter written to deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seeking a thorough inquiry.

"There were massive irregularities, illegality and lack of transparency in the setting up of the petrol pump and grant of permission to Bhinde's Ego Media to erect the hoarding," Somaiya told reporters.

The hoarding and petrol pump stood on land in possession of the GRP.

The city-based Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), appointed to find the reasons behind the hoarding collapse, is expected to submit a report within seven days, BMC officials said.

A team of experts from VJTI visited the petrol pump the day after the tragedy. It has inspected the hoarding location, collected samples of soil and material used for the giant structure's foundation and taken necessary measurements, they said.

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