Bad advertisement for Mumbai

15 May,2024 06:53 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Dharmendra Jore

Uprooted Ghatkopar billboard has killed innocents, will the guilty be identified and taken to task?

The billboard fell on a petrol station in Ghatkopar East during the dust storm on Monday. Pic/Sameer Markande

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When fire broke out at hospitals and eateries, they took action. When bridges fell and dilapidated buildings caved in, they proposed a structural audit. All said and done but without much prevention in advance. Deaths in such incidents haven't affected the lives of political and private individuals and impacted the careers of government officials, who should have been held responsible for the plight of the innocent. In most cases, those who we thought were the real culprits have gone unpunished whereas the families of the dead and critically injured suffer most for the rest of their lives. Ghatkopar's billboard incident is unlikely to be any different from the past, as far as fixing responsibility goes.

In the advertising business, land lease comes at a very high cost in Mumbai. The private and government landowners lease their land for billboards. Rules and regulations for installing commercial hoardings/billboards go for a toss when the operators compromise on the quality of construction and maintenance. The civic body recovers taxes from such installations, but we are not sure whether they check them for quality and strength. We're told that the Ghatkopar billboard violated the civic norms for maximum size (40x40 ft). It was a 120x120 ft structure.

In the Ghatkopar incident, some information has been shared. It said the civic authorities had recommended the action against this particular structure last week. But the action wasn't proposed because the billboard was unauthorised and its foundation very weak, but because the civic body had information that some trees near the billboard had dried up (in a suspected case of poisoning of trees to make the advertisement visible). The billboard was uprooted and fell on the fuel station, burying many hapless people. The foundation and the massive structure it held, could not sustain speedy winds, which are bound to lash a coastal city like Mumbai. The Government Railway Police that occupied the billboard land, clarified on Monday that they had started proceedings, but before the action could be taken, the tragic incident occurred.

Six years ago, the matter related to unauthorised/faulty billboards was raised in various quarters following the death of some people in Pune where a similar incident had taken place. However, it proved to be a storm in a teacup. The incident was soon forgotten in the wake of lofty announcements for corrective measures. The issue re-surfaced on Monday and is bound to haunt the people in power, in BMC and railway police. The timing of the tragedy is the period of electioneering in which the BJP and its opposition are vying for Mumbai's six seats. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's road show in the city will pass through Ghatkopar. Ahead of the PM's visit, the incident has allowed NDA and MVA to trade charges against each other. Unless proven, the charges remain baseless.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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