Billboard collapse: Authorities in blame game; GRP gave nod without checks, BMC mum for 2 years | India News

MUMBAI: After the horrific gigantic hoarding crash in Ghatkopar claimed 14 lives, questions are being raised as to where the buck stops. Mumbaikars are bewildered by the collective negligence of govt authorities that allowed this mishap to occur.
GRP granted permission to the agency to erect this billboard on its land without ascertaining if it was following civic guidelines on size and dimension – BMC turned a blind eye during its construction, then served notice last week, a full two years later – by which time Monday’s disaster was in the making.
On Tuesday, GRP said it had started the process of removing the hoarding after BMC’s May 2 letter, but the collapse occurred before it could be completed.
On May 2, the N ward office had written to GRP, asking it to revoke permission given to the advertising agency, Ego Media Pvt Ltd, and remove all its hoardings. The missive arose from a complaint by former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya in April about Ego Media’s involvement in cutting and poisoning trees that used to block its hoardings.
“Permission was given to Ego Media to erect hoardings under then GRP commissioner Quaiser Khalid for 10 years on rental basis,” GRP said. Four hoardings and the BPCL petrol pump (on which the hoarding collapsed) are managed by the Railway Police Welfare Fund Association.
Ghatkopar resident Salim Pathan told TOI that in Aug 2023, he submitted written complaints to BMC and GRP about the danger posed by illegal hoardings. GRP denied receiving a complaint. While BMC allows a hoarding size of maximum 40x40sqft, the collapsed hoarding measured 120x120sqft. “But, BMC made no mention in its letter that the dimension was an issue,” said a GRP officer.
Sources in GRP said the hoardings were certified as “structurally safe and stable” by a structural consultant in April 2023. The hoarding that crashed had even made it to the record books for being the largest in Asia.
RTI activist Anil Galgali said GRP was equally responsible for the tragedy, and police and the state govt must take action against errant officers. DG (railway police) Dr Pradnya Sarvade will be filing a report before the state about the incident. After Monday’s crash, the District Disaster Management Authority wrote to GRP, asking them to immediately remove the other three hoardings in the area.
The rule book does affix accountability. Senior counsel Anil Sakhare said if GRP has possession of the land, it would be state land and BMC permissions would be applicable. So, the civic body was right in issuing a notice to GRP to remove it. Sections 328 and 328A of the BMC Act deal with civic permissions for hoardings to exhibit advertisements on premises other than one’s business premises. The conditions “require NOCs from the landlord or cooperative housing society, from the police commissioner (traffic) in case of illuminated hoardings, from the civil aviation dept if the hoarding is in funnel area, the Mumbai heritage committee if in heritage buildings or precincts, from MCZMA if in CRZ areas, structural design and stability certificate from a licensed engineer, a certificate under Shops and Establishments Act”.

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On March 1, 2018, Bombay HC had held that even for a hoarding to be erected on Airports Authority of India land in Juhu, the advertising agency had to get permission from BMC as the competent authority.
In its defence now, BMC claims that it was hamstrung by the fact that to avoid payment of licence fee and seek licence from it, railway police had in July 2021 said GRP falls within the definition of railways. It claimed ward officials had been “pursuing the matter” with GRP. On May 13, the day of the tragedy, the N ward officer wrote a letter to the agency, saying the hoarding had been erected without permission since April 2022, adding that it owed BMC over Rs 6 crore. It instructed the agency to remove its eight hoardings in the area within 10 days.
Meanwhile, Thane Congress prez Vikrant Chavan alleged an unholy nexus between the administration and political leaders of being partners in advertising agencies that install massive hoardings. BJP MLA Sanjay Kelkar demanded action against errant officials who permit such structures.
(With inputs by Manoj Badgeri)

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