100 Notices Against Bhavesh Bhinde, Mumbai Billboard Collapse Accused

Bhavesh Bhinde also faces 23 prior charges ranging from cheque fraud and illegally cutting trees to rape; the latter case was filed in January.

100 Notices Against Bhavesh Bhinde, Mumbai Billboard Collapse Accused

Bhavesh Bhinde's Ego Media Pvt Ltd built the collapsed Ghatkopar billboard (File).


Over 100 notices and penalties have been issued against Mumbai businessman Bhavesh Bhinde, whose company installed - illegally, city officials have claimed - a 14,400 sq ft hoarding in Ghatkopar that collapsed last week amid strong winds and rain, crushing 16 people and injuring 75 others.

Police sources told NDTV the notices and penalties are related to violation of rules for erection of billboards, suggesting Bhinde and his company may be the main culprit in an entirely preventable disaster that has, fortunately (if belatedly) prompted action against other outsized and illegal hoardings in the Maharashtra capital and other cities; Chennai has announced a crackdown too.

Bhinde went on the run after the billboard collapsed but was eventually arrested - three days later - from Rajasthan's Udaipur. Police said the businessman skipped from Mumbai to Thane and Ahmedabad, changing his name and staying on the run for 72 hours in an attempt to evade capture.

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He faces multiple charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Bhinde also faces 23 prior charges ranging from cheque fraud and illegally cutting trees (so his illegally installed billboards could be better seen) to rape; the latter case was filed in January.

READ | Rape Accused, Aspiring MLA: Man Behind Collapsed Billboard

Sources also said questions are now being raised over earlier contracts awarded by Indian Railways and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to erect billboards and hoardings.

Meanwhile, the inquiry into Bhinde and his company, Ego Media Ltd, has uncovered dubious business practices. Source said that in structuring company leadership Bhinde took similar evasive measures to keep potential blame at bay, including making an associate the firm's director.

However, Bhinde reportedly retained the final say in negotiating contracts, many of which are being re-examined amid complaints of violation of Railways and the Mumbai civic body.

In December last year, after a row with the 'director', Bhinde assumed the position himself.

The hoarding that fell was 120 x 120 feet - so big it was in the Limca Book of Records. However, the Mumbai civic body has said it does not, on paper, allow billboards larger than 40 x 40 feet.

Questions have been raised over the approval process for the billboard's construction, with the civic body stating it had not signed off and that its approval was necessary for all hoardings. Action has been ordered against all such "illegal" structures, civic body chief Bhushan Gagrani told reporters.

READ | Day After Collapse, Blame Game Over Mumbai Billboard

Bhinde, however, has insisted it received 'permission' from the Assistant Commissioner of Police (Railways). The land on which it was built had been leased to the Government Railway Police.

Ego Media built four hoardings on that land, including the one that collapsed.

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In a predictable blame game, the GRP pitched responsibility back to the civic body, saying it does not have the equipment to take such structures down and asking the city officials to act.

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

READ | Fuel Station On Which Mumbai Hoarding Fell Didn't Have Permit

The focus is also on the petrol station on which the hoarding fell; sources said it did not have an occupancy certificate - a permit confirming a building complies with all codes and regulations.

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The billboard collapsed on May 13 after an unexpected bout of heavy rain and strong winds hit the city. Multiple disturbing videos of the collapse were soon being shared online, as were videos of other structures collapsing or being thrown about by gusts of wind, including a scaffolding.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde - under fire amid the ongoing general election - announced ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the families of each person who died in the Ghatkopar collapse.

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