Vehicles are trapped under the debris after a massive billboard fell during a rainstorm in Mumbai on May 14, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

MUMBAI: Police in India’s financial capital have opened a criminal case against the owner of a huge billboard that collapsed on a petrol station and killed 14 people, media reports said Tuesday.

The giant 70 by 50-metre (230 by 164-foot) hoarding, bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool, in Mumbai’s east collapsed on Monday as fierce winds buffeted the city, accompanied by rain and dust storms.

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It crushed a fuel station, homes and cars during the thunderstorm, trapping more than a 100 people, according to authorities.

Rescuers worked through the night to pull people from the debris on the side of a busy arterial road in the Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar.

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Some 75 wounded were rescued and 14 bodies found, the city’s civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, said.

Local authorities confirmed Tuesday that 14 people had died in the accident with 75 more injured, with rescue operations still underway.

Image Credit: AFP

“Medical treatment is currently being provided to 44 injured individuals, with 31 already discharged after receiving treatment,” the city’s municipal corporation said in a post on social media platform X.

“Unfortunately, 14 people (succumbed) to death in this mishap,” it added. “Rescue operations are ongoing at the site.”

Image Credit: AFP

Collapse on petrol pump complicated rescue efforts

Gaurav Chauhan of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) told AFP that the billboard’s collapse on top of a petrol pump had complicated rescue efforts.

“We are not able to use equipment in case of fire and other hazards... so we are using heavy cranes just to remove the debris,” he said.

Media reports said Mumbai police had filed a culpable homicide case against the owner of Ego Media, the company identified as having installed the signage.

Bhavesh Bhinde Image Credit: Instagram
Man behind the collapse, against whom rape case is filed, is on the run
After the billboard erected by his company fell during the storm in Mumbai, a case has been filed against Bhavesh Bhinde for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The owner of Ego Media, however, is no stranger to police cases and has over 20 against him, including one of rape, NDTV reported.
Police officials said Bhinde is on the run and his cellphone is switched off.
The advertising agency owner had also contested the state election as an Independent candidate from the Mulund constituency in 2009 and, in his affidavit, he had said that there are 23 cases registered against him under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act and the Negotiable Instruments Act (for bounced cheques).
In January this year, a case of rape was registered against him at the Mulund Police Station and a chargesheet has also been filed.
Sources told NDTV Bhinde had bagged several contracts from the Indian Railways and the Mumbai civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), for erecting hoardings and banners over the years and has violated the rules of both organisations several times. He and others in his company are also named as accused in tree-poisoning and tree-cutting cases.

Police in the city could not be reached for comment by AFP on Tuesday morning and there was no sign that the owner had been taken into police custody.

Rescue workers used excavators to clear mangled metal debris in their final search for survivors.

“The operation was very challenging due to the weight of the structure and the presence of flammable liquid and gas at the site,” Mohsen Shahedi, a senior National Disaster Response Force officer, told Reuters.

Shahedi said the rescue operation was nearly over except for one last sweeping search.

“We believe there is no one else stuck under the debris,” he said.

Flights disrupted

Videos showed the towering billboard billowing in the wind before collapsing as a dust storm and rain lashed the city, bringing traffic to a standstill and disrupting flights at Mumbai airport.

The agency owning the billboard did not have a permit from the BMC, the municipal body said in a statement.

The hoarding measured about 1,338 square metres (14,400 square feet), it said, nine times more than the maximum permitted size.

The BMC said it had instructed the agency to remove all its hoardings immediately. “To prevent such accidents from happening again, instructions have been given to conduct a structural audit of all hoardings in Mumbai and immediately take down dangerous ones,” Eknath Shinde, the chief minister of Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is the capital, said in a post on X.

30 out of 1,300 not submitted a structural stability report

“Out of 1,300 such hoardings in Mumbai, around 30 have not submitted a structural stability report that is mandatory every two years,” said Bhushan Gagrani, who heads the BMC. “We are looking into that.”

City councillor Rakhee Jadhav told AFP that the collapse was avoidable, blaming shoddy construction.

“This is not a disaster. If this hoarding would have been properly installed... these casualties would have not happened,” she said.

“This area is a marshland and it is also a low-lying area,” she added. “The foundation of that hoarding should have gone more near the rock.”

The storm that hit Mumbai on Munday uprooted trees and caused brief power outages in various neighbourhoods around the city, also disrupting the city’s train network.

Mumbai’s international airport temporarily grounded flights with at least 15 planes diverted.

Devendra Fadnavis, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra state, said on X that his government had ordered a “high-level inquiry” into the accident.

The state government would also make compensation payments of $6,000 (500,000 rupees) to relatives of those killed, he added.