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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Ghatkopar hoarding collapse Bhinde greased palms changed agencys name to avoid paying dues to Railways says whistle blower

Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: ‘Bhinde greased palms, changed agency’s name to avoid paying dues to Railways,' says whistle blower

Updated on: 18 May,2024 11:01 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Diwakar Sharma |

Whistleblower alleges that he owed Railways nearly Rs 21 lakh in outstanding licence fees in 2019, babu under scanner was promoted to deputy chief vigilance officer

Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: ‘Bhinde greased palms, changed agency’s name to avoid paying dues to Railways,' says whistle blower

Narendar Panwar, former senior divisional commercial manager, CR; (right) Bhavesh Bhinde, head of Ego Media Pvt. Ltd. and owner of deadly Ghatkopar hoarding

Bhavesh Bhinde, the head of Ego Media Pvt. Ltd. and aspiring MLA, who was finally arrested from Udaipur on Thursday in the billboard tragedy at Ghatkopar, had been allegedly greasing the palms of senior railway officials to allow him run his advertising business without paying the mandatory licence fee for years, alleged Ajay Bose, a former parcel supervisor who was posted at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT). 

Out of curiosity, Bose filed an application in 2019 under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to know the outstanding licence fees of advertising contractors. “Based on the comprehensive response from the senior divisional commercial manager’s office, I discovered that significant outstanding licence fees are pending. Above all, crucial files related to the outstanding licence fees of advertising contractors, who in the past secured contracts of advertisement rights across the Mumbai division of Central Railway (CR), are missing. Bhinde’s files are also not traceable as per the RTI reply,” Bose told mid-day.

‘Why did Sr DCM not act’

“How did the important files, whose legal custodian is the senior DCM, go missing from a government office at CSMT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus)? If the crucial files were missing, did the then-senior DCM Narendar Panwar or his office register an FIR at a nearby police station? And, why were the defaulters [those who did not pay the fees] allowed to do business? As I smelled a rat, I complained against Panwar to chief vigilance commissioner, New Delhi; Central Bureau of Investigation, executive director (vigilance), Railway Board; SDGM, Central Railway, CSMT against the then Sr DCM Panwar,” Bose said.

The important files of three out of 26 advertising agencies were missing, according to the RTI reply that Bose received in 2019. These agencies are Guju, Dolphin and Nice Ads, whose outstanding dues to Railways are R20.94 lakh, R63,336 and R39.49 lakh respectively. The contracts for other ad agencies were under the process of arbitration.

“In my complaint letter, dated October 18, 2019, I had mentioned that Panwar in connivance with various advertising contractors had caused a severe loss to the railway exchequer in the form of huge outstanding licence fees that run into crores of rupees,” said Bose, adding, “Files pertaining to outstanding licence fees have surreptitiously gone missing. This could have been done deliberately to protect defaulters, including Bhinde, who had been running an ad agency called Guju: Nothing is impossible.”

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Modus operandi

“In my complaint, I had categorically mentioned that the senior DCM is duty bound to recover licence fees from advertising agencies if the contract is under operation, but these contractors, in collusion with Panwar, did not pay the fees during their contract period. This resulted in an amassing of outstanding licence fees. This is a modus operandi of the defaulting ad agencies and Panwar was well aware of their nefarious tricks,” he added.

“After their contract period is over, the defaulters go for arbitration to seek relief in clearing the outstanding licence fees,” he added. “In a bid to secure new contracts, defaulters change the name of their agencies or file documents in the names of their wives, change PAN card details, etc, and later adopt the same modus operandi to avoid paying the licence fee. This has been going on for ages in connivance with senior government officials, and I had raised my voice against this, writing to higher-ups to stop such malpractices,” he alleged.

In 2019, Bose learnt that since December 2013, Bhinde owed Railways nearly Rs 21 lakh in licence fees. “After I made a complaint, Bhinde changed his advertising agency name from Guju to Ego Media Pvt Ltd and secured an advertising contract,” Bose said. “Had the action been taken against defaulters, the Ghatkopar hoarding tragedy could have been averted and innocent lives saved,” Bose said.

Vigilance dept’s letter

On October 31, 2019, the vigilance branch of the general manager’s office, Mumbai wrote a letter to Bose that reads, “The central vigilance department is committed to investigating the genuineness of the complaint and identifying railway personnel involved in corrupt practices. We request you to cooperate with us by providing information available with you and assisting the department in completing the investigation satisfactorily.”

“Please confirm the complaint has been lodged by you. To confirm, a self-addressed inland letter is enclosed herewith. Please acknowledge and send it to this office, to enable us to proceed and deal with your complaint,” reads the letter signed by S R Tripathi, assistant vigilance officer (G).

The Railway Board, on January 3, 2020, wrote a letter to general manager (vigilance), CR, Mumbai mentioning Bose’s complaint against Panwar. “Railway may take appropriate action as deemed fit and dispose of the complaint at their level pertaining to non-gazetted staff, as per the provisions of Indian Railways Vigilance Manual, 2006,” reads the letter, which is in mid-day’s possession.

“During the investigation, if gazetted officers are found involved, the Railways may send a detailed investigation report in the prescribed format,” read the letter signed by Preeti, for secretary/vigilance, Railway Board, New Delhi.

Bose alleged that the government officials only engaged in exchanging letters, but never him to record his statement to date. “It’s been almost five years, but no government official asked me to visit their office to record my statement in connection with the complaint which I had submitted in 2019,” Bose said. “After a few months of my complaint, I had filed an RTI to know what actions have been taken against the corrupt officials,” he added.

On June 6, 2020, the Railway Board replied to Bose’s query. “The said complaint was forwarded to general manager, vigilance, CR, Mumbai for deem fit action,” reads the letter signed by Madhusmita Patra, director vigilance (traffic), Railway Board, New Delhi.

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COVID washed out complaint

Bose alleged that officials never apprised him of the action being taken with regard to his complaint. “The pandemic derailed everything though I had been following up via RTI applications,” he added. “According to the Railway Board’s letter, the vigilance department was to investigate my complaint, but, I was shocked to learn that on July 1, 2020, Panwar was made CR’s deputy chief vigilance officer,” Bose said.

“The officer against whom I complained was given an opportunity to investigate the case against himself. This is complete mayhem and utter disregard of Supreme Court guidelines. How can he be made deputy CVO? How can we expect a fair investigation?” said Bose. “I strongly suspect that the senior officials diluted my complaint by taking advantage of the pandemic when people’s movement was restricted,” said Bose, who suffered a paralysis attack in October 2020.

“I was completely bedridden during the pandemic, so, I had stopped following up on the matter. But, now, I will surely take up the issue and fight till my last breath to know the status of my complaint,” vowed Bose. At present, Panwar is the chief freight transportation manager at Western Railway, Mumbai. When mid-day tried to speak to him, Panwar abruptly disconnected the call and did not respond to the messages and subsequent calls. He also blocked this correspondent’s mobile number.

CR’s response

Swapnil Nila, CR’s chief public relations officer, said, “An FIR was registered in the matter in 2019 itself. It has also been mentioned by the Mumbai division that the outstanding amount against Nice Ads and Guju were as per the applicant of the RTI and as the application was made around six years back, as mentioned in the RTI application itself, it is not an admission of such outstanding amount. 

While providing information, the table given in the RTI application was copied as it was and in the column of remarks, the information with respect to each file was mentioned. In the RTI reply, the then factual present status ‘file not traceable’ was informed to the applicant. In the absence of files, it could not be verified whether the outstanding amount was subsequently cleared or otherwise as in 12 similar cases the outstanding amount was subsequently cleared.” He later informed mid-day that the FIR was filed in November 2019 at the MRA Marg police station.

“The complaint was not investigated by him [Panwar] as the time periods do not match. indeed, it was investigated by an officer who was senior to Panwar. And it was investigated before he joined as deputy CVO. Later on, when he joined the vigilance organisation, the case had shifted to another officer,” Nila claimed.

“The investigation was closed in 2021 as the vigilance department had given a reply that any judicial body does not give any further reply, so the status of investigation is closed (sic),” Nila said. “The allegations did not have any value as per the vigilance department because the amount which was to be paid is of 2012-16. And during this period, Panwar was not there [as senior DCM],” he added.

“Panwar was the senior DCM during 2017-19. Before him, Alok Badkul occupied the post,” Nila said. “Now the file has been closed and there is no pending inquiry against Panwar,” Nila told mid-day over the phone. Asked if Badkul was facing an inquiry in this matter, Nila said, “I have no idea about that.”

Year Bose filed RTI application

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