Whodunnit debate dominates Mumbai billboard collapse as negligence is revealed on part of authorities

A report by the Indian Express states that other than the issuing of three notices, no action was taken by the concerned authorities.
Last Updated : 15 May 2024, 11:26 IST
Last Updated : 15 May 2024, 11:26 IST

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In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that occurred in Mumbai on Monday, the city's civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claims they had red-marked the giant billboard a year prior before its collapse which resulted in the death of 14 people and injuring 75 others.

A report by the Indian Express states that other than the issuing of three notices, no action was taken by the concerned authorities.

In March 2023, the first notice was issued over license fee, the second notice was issued on May 2, 2024 over damage to trees.

The third notice was issued on May 13, the day the structure collapsed. The notice was issued over “unauthorised advertisement panels”.

The BMC stated in its notice, "“The unauthorised advertisement panels were erected without obtaining any permission from us (BMC) and this is a violation under section 388 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act.” 

Indian Express reported officials saying that this notice was issued hours before the collapse of the structure.

These notices were issued to Ego Media Private Limited—which was responsible for putting up the billboard— and Government Railway Police (GRP) who had the responsibility of maintaining the plot. At the moment, the land is held by Maharashtra government’s Police Housing Welfare Corporation.

In its notice to Ego Media, the civic body said "The billboards were erected in April 2022, and since then the agency also owes a licence fee amounting to Rs 6.14 crore, which is pending. Therefore, you are hereby notified to make the payment of outstanding licence fees within 10 days from receipt of notice and all the hoardings of yours in the said premises should also be removed within ten days."

In its May 2 notice to Government Railway Police (GRP), the BMC said "We (BMC) have received a complaint stating that the advertiser in the Railway police staff colony at Ghatkopar East has cut down trees by poisoning them to remove obstruction for the hoarding. Following this, officials from our garden cell had carried out an inspection and an FIR was also filed against Ego Media at Pant Nagar police station.”

Terming the matter to be urgent, the civic body further said, "Therefore, as per directions of the Municipal Commissioner, you are directed to take action against Ego Media by cancelling their licence and the billboard should also be removed immediately,”

However, this notice fails to take cognizance on the issue of structural stability of the hoarding.

A BMC official has confirmed that no action was taken by authorities between the issuance of the first and second notice.

Unfortunately these weren't the only rules which were flouted when the billboard came up, there were many 'concerns' which were brushed aside.

Firstly, the size of the billboard wasn't made in accordance with BMC mandated rules. The instructions state that no billboard should be larger than 40×40 feet, in this case, the billboard's size was 120×120 ft which clearly exceeded the norm.

Another rule which was flouted was the gap between hoardings, rules state there should be at least 70 metres of gap between hoardings, a BMC official said it was less than 50 metres here.

The official also said, "The company had also not submitted the structural stability report, which is mandatory for erecting a hoarding.”

In October 2020, the GRP had floated a tender to private agencies for setting up of billboard. This billboard was to showcase advertisement hoardings on a rental basis.

Ego Media was selected in December 2021 to set up the billboard and maintain the hoardings. However, GRP did not put any clause specifying the size of the hoarding in its contract.

Indian Express reported Shahaji Nikam, ACP (Admin) for the Commissioner of Police, Railways (Mumbai) saying, "the permission for erecting the hoardings was issued by the Commissioner (GRP) office, and we didn’t specify any size limit for the hoardings in the work order.”

However, the work order specifically stated that the private agency was responsible for the maintenance of the structural stability of the hoarding.

“You shall be solely responsible for the structural stability of the display board. You will be responsible for maintaining the structure in good condition and any loss or damage arising out of negligence, you will be responsible for the same, especially considering the climatic conditions of the area,” it stated.

In July 2023 and April 2024, the BMC's garden department has registered police complaints that the private agency had removed trees which were planted outside the billboard.

“The complaints were filed after we found out that holes were drilled in the trunks of the dead trees in an attempt to inject poison inside them. This had led to around 40 trees losing their leaves and eventually dying… We had also written to the GRP and issued a notice to the agency as well,” said an official from the BMC’s zonal tree department.

Published 15 May 2024, 11:26 IST

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