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Exclusive | Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: Scavengers run riot at site

Updated on: 20 May,2024 06:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Diwakar Sharma |

Even as cops stand guard, gangs of rag pickers and drug addicts prowl the area, scavenging for auto parts and iron rods

Exclusive | Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: Scavengers run riot at site

Vehicles that were reduced to rubble. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

The aftermath of the Ghatkopar hoarding tragedy is grim, with chaos everywhere and severe damage to the petrol pump and many vehicles, now beyond repair and piled up in a mess. While police officers guard the accident site, rag pickers and drug addicts roam the area, scavenging for valuable motor parts and stealing iron angles and rods to sell cheaply to nearby scrap dealers, according to sources.

About six police officers have been deployed at the site to guard the wreckage. However, the government has not provided them with basic amenities like washrooms and drinking water in this extreme heat. As a result, the officers often have to walk to nearby shops to buy water.

“It is a golden opportunity for the rag pickers and drug addicts. They get sufficient time to get away with the expensive motor parts or other items found scattered at the accident site when the cops go to nearby shops to buy water or snacks. The pile of wreckage can be important evidence in the case, and if the motor parts are stolen from the vehicles, the owners will face difficulties when claiming insurance,” said a source.

A truck that was crushed at the site. Pic/Rajesh Gupta
A truck that was crushed at the site. Pic/Rajesh Gupta 

Sources confirmed that crucial pieces of evidence and small iron angles/rods are being stolen. “It is the responsibility of government bodies to safeguard the damaged property of victims,” the source added. A private security guard named Arjun Yadav, hired by the petrol pump, echoed these claims, but no fresh cases have been registered at Pant Nagar police station, as the vehicle owners are either hospitalised, deceased, or recuperating at home.

“I am the only private security person deployed by the petrol pump. Though I chase them away, it’s not possible for me to guard the huge area lying in a messed-up condition,” Yadav told mid-day. Meanwhile, the owner of the illegal hoarding, Bhavesh Bhinde, is in custody, facing intensified interrogation by the Mumbai Crime Branch at Unit 7 office in Ghatkopar.

The tragedy site is a crime-prone area where house-breaking and theft cases have become common, as victims often wait in queues to register FIRs under various sections including 379, 380, and 381 of the Indian Penal Code.

Pant Nagar police station has a high number of theft and house-breaking cases registered. Till May 10 this year, nearly 70 FIRs under sections 379, 380, and 381 have been registered. The worst affected month was February, with 19 back-to-back theft and house-breaking cases. A local source said, “The stolen vehicles are swiftly dismantled by gangs of thieves, who then sell the motor parts to various mechanics at rock-bottom prices. The remaining parts are sold off to scrap dealers.”

Short-staffed due to polls

The damaged vehicles are strewn in a heap at the site, where petrol and diesel still remain at the pump. “There are two trucks, 25 cars, 19 motorcycles, and a few auto rickshaws that got damaged in the tragedy,” said a police officer attached to Pant Nagar police station.

When asked who will clear the mess at the tragedy site, the officer said, “It is the joint responsibility of the Government Railway Police (GRP), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), and the BMC to remove these damaged vehicles from the accident site.”

Despite the evident crime patterns in the locality, the concerned authorities, including GRP, BMC, and Bharat Petroleum, have failed to remove the debris from the accident site or deploy enough guards to safeguard the wreckage. A senior GRP official informed mid-day that a majority of their personnel have been dispatched for ongoing general election duties, leaving them with a limited number of staff available to deploy at the tragedy site.

The water and electricity connections have been snapped at the tragedy site where intensified patrolling is needed especially during night. “The tragedy site looks horrible at night as many people died of unnatural deaths due to the sheer negligence of government officials,” said the source. “We are short-staffed at present due to ongoing general elections. Besides our (GRP) personnel, the Pant Nagar police have also deployed their officials at the tragedy site to safeguard the wreckage of vehicles and other materials. Local police can register the case related to the theft incident, if any,” said a GRP official.
“There is no report of a theft case as of now,” said senior inspector of Pant Nagar police station Rajesh Kewal.

Many suffered broken necks

Sources at Rajawadi hospital informed mid-day that many of the deceased had suffered broken necks, while one had punctured lungs as a result of the tragedy.

The bodies of retired General Manager of Air Traffic Control Manoj Chansoriya and his wife Anita were found squeezed in their car, which had been compressed to half its original height. “One of the heaviest trusses of the billboard had collapsed on Chansoriya’s car, where they were found squeezed,” a rescuer told mid-day.

“Most of the deceased were in their seating positions with broken necks inside their four-wheelers. It was a horrible situation,” said the rescuer. “The height of a truck was also reduced by one-to-two feet in the tragedy. But we rescued a few people who had taken shelter near the truck.”

May 13
Day of the incident

No of theft FIRs registered in the area this year

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