Mumbai Billboard collapse: The hoarding fell on a petrol station.

Mumbai:

A day after the deadly collapse of a 14,400 square foot billboard in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar – 14 people were killed and 74 others injured after the creaking 100-foot metal structure, buffeted by strong winds, fell on and crushed a petrol station – the human cost of the tragedy has been underlined. Family members of those who were crushed spoke to NDTV Tuesday morning, explaining how and why their loved ones were at the scene of the disaster – whether as staff at the petrol station or customers.

“My brother, an auto driver, went to fill CNG. He was in line when the hoarding fell on him. We went but the police would not let us approach. Then they sent us to the hospital, where we had to show photos to confirm he had died,” one man said.

He appealed to the state for help, saying his brother was the family’s primary earner. “We are poor people… where will go, what will we do? My brother was responsible for us… he also left behind a wife and child. There should be an investigation.”

Another distraught kin – whose nephew, Sachin Yadav, worked at the petrol station, told NDTV the family would have never sent the 23-year-old to work there if told about the dispute behind the legality of the billboard. “My brother’s son… he was working there for two years. We found out only yesterday night that he had been crushed by the billboard. We rushed there but there was such a commotion that no one could tell us anything. Only at 4 am we were told to go to the hospital.”

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Sachin Yadav, 23, was one of those who was killed in the Mumbai billboard collapse.

Some family members have also questioned the state government’s compensation of Rs 5 lakh per death, pointing out many of those who were crushed to death had young children.

“My cousin brother (who died)… his child has just given her Class 10 exam. Will Rs 5 lakh be enough for her education? How will his family survive now on this amount? And even if they can, it will take five-six months for the money to come. What will they do till then? They must think about this…”

21 Hours Later, Rescue Ops Continue

The aftermath of the horrible incident – search and rescue ops to save more people and, possibly, recover more bodies – continued into Tuesday afternoon, more than 21 hours after the collapse. Rescue ops included teams from the NDRF, or National Disaster Response Force, as well as earth-movers from the BMC, and teams of emergency medical personnel. Gas-cutters have also been deployed, but there are concerns over using these, given the accident site is a petrol station.

The NDRF is using two cranes – each weighing 500 tons – to shift the metal debris and create tunnels into which rescue personnel can crawl and pull out those trapped inside.

“Painful, Sad Incident”, Says Chief Minister

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi today as Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, visited the site of the tragedy and has announced ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh per death.

“It is a painful and sad incident… I visited the spot yesterday. The government will bear all expenses of people injured. Rs 5 lakh as compensation will be given to the next of kin (and) strict action will be taken against the owner of the hoarding.”

President Droupadi Murmu has also reacted. She posted a statement on X (formerly Twitter), “News of several casualties due to the collapse of a hoarding in Ghatkopar area of Mumbai is extremely sad. I express my deepest condolences to the bereaved families. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured and wish for the success of the relief and rescue operations.”

Officials’ Blame Game Over Billboard Collapse

Meanwhile, the hoarding collapse has also triggered (an entirely predictable) blame game.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has declared the billboard – a 120 X 120 foot structure reportedly in the Limca Book of Records – was “illegal”, i.e., it did not give the advertising agency permission to erect that and other such structures.

Also, according to officials cited by news agency PTI, the BMC limits billboard sizes to 40 x 40 foot only.

“We have ordered action against all illegal hoardings in the city. We are starting today. A case has been filed in this case (as) this hoarding did not have permission. A complaint was also received that some trees had been cut so this hoarding could be visible. We have filed a case in this regard too,” BMC Commissioner Bhushan Gagrani told reporters.

READ | 14 Dead After Huge Billboard Falls During Mumbai Dust Storm

However, the ad agency – Ego Media, which built four hoardings – each 100-150 metres from the other – on land leased by the Maharashtra government to the Police Welfare Corporation – is understood have to received ‘permission’ from the Assistant Commissioner of Police (Railways). The land had initially been given to the Government Railway Police, officials said.

The civic body has issued a notice demanding the hoardings still standing be taken down.

The GRP, however, has pitched responsibility back to the civic body, saying it does not have the equipment to take the structures down and asked the BMC to act instead. In a statement, the GRP said then Mumbai Police Commissioner, Qaiser Khalid, had given permission – a 10-year lease on the land – to Ego Media.

READ | Mumbai Hoarding Collapse Kills 14, Ad Agency Had No Civic Body Clearance

A BMC official said the hoardings will be razed but offered no timeline.

Meanwhile, a police case has been filed against the ad agency’s owner – identified as Bhavesh Bhinde – and others on charges for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

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