Civil society organisations petition Maharashtra govt. to remove all illegal hoardings ?

In a letter to BMC, GRP and the State Chief Minister the petitioners have demanded strict compliance with the Supreme Court’s order dated June 7, 2024, to prevent future incidents of hoarding collapse, by taking prompt action against all illegal and unstable hoardings and signages across Mumbai

Published - June 12, 2024 03:17 am IST - MUMBAI

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Over 550 civil society organisations and citizens have written to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Government Railway Police (GRP), Maharashtra Chief Minister and Disaster Management Authority seeking immediate removal of all illegal, unstable hoardings, billboards and signages across Mumbai. They have also sought prompt measures to ensure no incidents of hoarding collapse take place henceforth.?

One of the petitioners, Advocate Lara Jesan, said despite the Ghatkopar hoarding collapse incident on May 13, 2024, in which 17 people died and several were injured, multi-hazard events have continued to take place with the onset of monsoons and due to the failures of the authorities to take prompt action. ?

The petitioners. in their letter, have demanded strict compliance of the Supreme Court’s order dated June 7, 2024, to prevent future incidents of hoarding collapse, by taking prompt action against all illegal and unstable hoardings, billboards and signages across the city. The apex court in the civic body’s pending challenge to the Bombay High Court’s decision on the applicability of provisions relating to hoardings on railway land, directed the authorities to ensure that no hoarding collapse happens during monsoons.?

“Survey and identify all the illegal, oversized and unstable hoardings, billboards and signages put up across Mumbai city and remove them forthwith. Take all preventive measures, in coordination with the Disaster Management Authority, to ensure preparedness for multi-hazard events and to prevent future such human-induced disasters. Issue a public statement confirming that necessary action for removal of all illegal, oversized and unstable hoardings, billboards and signages has been taken by the authorities,” another petitioner, Advocate Vinod Shetty, said. ?

The petition demands exemplary penalty, fine and taking appropriate action under law against all the offenders for putting up unauthorized and illegal hoardings, billboards and signages in Mumbai. ?

“We demand the government to take prompt action against the defaulting companies and?owners of illegal hoardings, billboards and signages, including Ego Media Pvt. Ltd., by permanently blacklisting the defaulters (including any new companies put up by the owners and their associates) from putting up hoardings or acquiring public work tenders. We also ask to recover the unpaid dues and penalty imposed on Ego Media Pvt. Ltd. for its violations and take strict action against concerned officials of the company for their criminal acts,” one of the petitioners Bilal Khan said. ??

The petition calls to provide adequate compensation to the families of the deceased, to the injured victims and to all those who have suffered losses in the Ghatkopar hoarding collapse incident, taking into account the economic loss suffered on account of life-long loss of livelihood and to their means of livelihood such as taxis, auto rickshaws etc., personal loss, recurring medical costs, trauma, grave nature of the tragedy and the enormous revenues earned from these illegal and unstable hoardings, the petition said. ?

Conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the matter to identify erring officials of MCGM, GRP and all concerned officials and?bodies responsible for the tragedy, Senior Advocate?Gayatri Singh asked. “Investigate any corrupt practices in place that have contributed to this incident and the putting up illegal hoardings across the city. Initiate strict prosecution against all erring officials, including the top decision-makers, for their complicity /negligent acts,” she said. ?

The petitioners demanded the appointment of appropriate government authority to carry out regular structural audits of hoardings across the city. “MCGM and Railways should review existing guidelines in respect of hoardings, billboards, signages etc. and issue strict guidelines for structural stability of such hoardings based on the wind speeds, rainfall and other environmental factors and climate considerations, and ensure proper implementation of the same, with frequent monitoring and review,” petitioner Dolphy D’ Souza emphasised. ?

The hoarding collapse case?

On May 13, 2024 in Ghatkopar, an illegal hoarding installed by a company Ego Media Pvt. Ltd., collapsed during a dust storm, leading to the death of 17 people, with 75 others sustaining injuries. More than 100 people were trapped under the hoarding which fell over a petrol pump, and the rescue operations conducted by the disaster response team lasted 66 hours. The Mumbai Crime Branch issued an official statement on May 22, 2024 informing that it has constituted a Special Investigation Team with 6 police officers, to probe the hoarding collapse incident. The hoarding belonged to Ego Media Pvt. Ltd., an advertising agency owned by one Bhavesh Bhinde. Admittedly, the hoarding weighed 250 tonnes and had a size of 120ft x 120ft, 9 times above the limit of 40ft x 40 ft prescribed by the MCGM. It was erected illegally without permission from MCGM, as the land was purported to be owned by the Maharashtra Government’s Police Welfare Association on a plot maintained by GRP.? 3 notices had been issued to the defaulting company in respect of the hoarding, last being just a few hours before the collapse on May 13, 2024, where the MCGM had demanded payment of outstanding licence fees to the tune of Rs. 61.4 crores within 10 days and ordered removal of all hoardings. ?

Bhavesh Bhinde, who has 21 criminal cases pending against him, was arrested on May 17, 2024 from Udaipur, Rajasthan. BMC Engineer, Manoj Sanghu, who issued the structural stability certificate for the hoarding, two months after it being put up, was arrested on June 1, 2024. On June 8, 2024, Janhavi Marathe, Ego Media’s director till November 2023 and Sagar Kumbhar, the civil contractor, who were absconding, were nabbed from a hotel in Goa.?

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