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Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: Simple people who were going about their daily lives

Updated on: 20 May,2024 06:48 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Team mid-day |

Families of those killed in hoarding collapse unite to say: Govt compensation not enough; we need accountability and jobs

Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: Simple people who were going about their daily lives

Vehicles that were crushed under the weight of the gigantic billboard that collapsed on a petrol pump last week. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

Key Highlights

  1. Many who lost their lives in billboard collapse were their families’ sole breadwinners
  2. Though the state government has assured the victims’ kin of Rs 5 lakh in compensation
  3. The families say this won’t suffice in the long run

Shirish Vaktania, Prasun Choudhari and Apoorva Agashe

Many who lost their lives in the Ghatkopar billboard collapse were their families’ sole breadwinners, and their dependents, who are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy, are shattered. Though the state government has assured the victims’ kin of Rs 5 lakh in compensation, the families say this won’t suffice in the long run.

All the money in the world can’t take away the pain of those who have been rendered childless and orphan due to the mishap. mid-day spoke with some of the families that have been left bereaved, who opened up about the loved ones they have been cruelly robbed of and called for justice. These are some of the lives that were lost:

Dilip Ramsundar Paswan, 38

This father of three, who resided at MIDC, Andheri East, was an optical fibre engineer. He, along with two colleagues, got trapped inside a company car after the billboard collapsed on the petrol pump on May 13. Paswan died on the spot after sustaining head injuries.

The sole breadwinner of his family, Paswan is survived by his wife Punita and children Shikha, 5; Amrita, 7; and four-month-old Shuk. Demanding justice for her family, Punita told mid-day that railway officials must be made accountable as the illegal banner was installed on the Government Railway Police land.

She said, “I lost my husband and the father of my children. I received a call from his colleagues while I was at home, informing me about the accident. When I reached the hospital, I found my husband had passed away. I don’t know how I will manage. Our entire family is shattered, and all happiness has been taken away by this incident. I urge the government to take strict action against those responsible. I also appeal to the public to hold the authorities accountable.”

“I request the Railway Police to provide employment for our family to sustain itself. While we received compensation from the government, it won’t suffice for a lifetime. I need a job to support my family, and the government should assist with this. The government should also ensure my children receive free education,” Punita added.

Debris at the site of the Bharat Petroleum pump in Ghatkopar East
Debris at the site of the Bharat Petroleum pump in Ghatkopar East

Raju Paswan, brother of the deceased, said, “Currently, Dilip’s family is in the village where the last rites are being conducted. My brother was overjoyed after the birth of his baby boy just four months ago. The entire family is devastated. The government must provide them with employment.”

Suraj Mahesh Chauhan, 19

This college student used to work as a labourer daily wage basis to support his education. His cousin, Ajay Chauhan stated, “Suraj used to often assist his uncle [Dhanesh Chauhan, who was also killed in mishap]. Both his siblings are unmarried and he was the youngest of them. On the day of the incident, Dhanesh and Suraj were travelling from Kurla to Mulund for some fabrication work. My uncle [Dhanesh] had informed his wife that they were travelling to Mulund in a cab. The family was informed by the shop owner whom they [the deceased] were working for after the incident that both were to stop at a gas station to refill and also informed the family to check on them as the phone of the driver accompanying them was unreachable.”

He added, “Both their phones were unreachable as well. This caused a panic as we had come to know of the tragedy in Ghatkopar. We were worried as they were travelling on the Eastern Express Highway and we knew that the hoarding had collapsed on the same route. Deepak, the eldest brother of the deceased, rushed to the spot to check but there was a lot of chaos. He then went to Rajawadi hospital where they were taking the injured and deceased, but to no avail. He could not find them and their phones were still unreachable. Due to the gravity of the disaster, it was very difficult to recognise the faces of people who were pulled out.”

He continued, “Around 3 am, my elder uncle [the father of the deceased] and Deepak visited Rajawadi hospital again. At this time, they could recognise the bodies of both [Suraj and Danesh]. It was later revealed that both their bodies were brought to Rajawadi hospital around 2 am. My elder uncle [father of Suraj] had come to Mumbai around 15 years back from Bihar and were living here in a rented house.”

He added, “My uncle [Dhanesh] and brother [Suraj] were loving individuals. The BMC should take action against all such illegal hoardings before the rains actually arrive or this sort of mishap can occur again, claiming the lives of many more and devastating other families.”

Mohammad Akram Siddhiqui, 48

An auto driver, Siddhiqui resided in Kamraj Nagar in Ghatkopar East with his wife Shamin Banu and daughter Shabnam Banu, 18. Siddhiqui got trapped under the hoarding while waiting in line to refill CNG in his auto. The family has taken his body to Prayagraj, UP for his last rites.

Siddhiqui’s wife Shamin Banu said, “That banner took away our world. My husband was a hardworking man who provided education for our daughter and supported the household. On May 13, he called me around 3.30 pm, saying he would be home soon. However, he stopped responding to calls after that. By 6 pm, when the storm hit the city, I was deeply worried about him.” “Late in the evening, we received a call from the police informing us that my husband had been admitted to Rajawadi hospital. I rushed there only to find that he had passed away,” she said.

“The government should take action against the culprits involved as well as the authorities who permitted this illegal hoarding. My husband’s auto has been completely damaged. We urge the government to provide jobs to family members so that we can survive. The compensation amount is insufficient. The Railways should also take responsibility and offer employment along with compensation as the incident occurred on their premises. I also request the government to provide waive my daughter’s college fees,” she said.

Bharat Rathod, 25

The youth worked as a medicine distributor and was the sole breadwinner of his joint family. Rathod lived in Ganesh Chowk, Golibar Road, Ghatkopar. The family has claimed that they have received R4 lakh of the amount announced by the government. “Bharat worked very hard. We demand that his brother Hitesh be given a job by the railway department or by the BMC,” Ganesh Rathod, the deceased’s paternal uncle.

The entire Ganesh Chowk locality wore a mournful look and banners had been set up eulogising the youth. “Bharat was a simple man and had no bad habits. He used to say that he wanted to improve his family’s condition and revamp his house. He would take part in the society’s activities and was known as Gopala as he was helpful by nature,” said Anand Morey, a member of Shree Ganesh Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal.

According to the Ganesh Chowk resident, the family received a call from Bharat’s office informing them that he was present at the petrol pump when the incident took place. “Bharat was accompanied by a colleague who informed the office that both were trapped under rubble. By the time we reached the spot, the authorities told us that the victims had been taken to Rajawadi hospital. When we went there, Bharat was nowhere to be found. We were about to leave for Sion hospital to check whether he was taken there, but at 8.30 pm an ambulance arrived and Bharat was inside it. The doctors declared him dead as he suffered a head injury, while his colleague is seriously injured,” said a resident of Ganesh Chowk.

Vasant Rathod, Bharat’s father, has demanded strict action against the hoarding owner Bhavesh Bhinde and other accused. “It is due to the negligence of the railway police and the BMC that the incident took place. We demand that stringent action be taken by the police on those who are involved,” he said. “The collector handed us a cheque for Rs 4 lakh. We are yet to receive the remaining R1 lakh,” he added.

Dhanesh Chauhan, 48

Ajay Chauhan, the deceased’s nephew said, “The deceased is my younger uncle. We can’t blame nature for uprooting the hoarding but we surely can blame the authorities for not taking appropriate action even after knowing that the hoarding was illegal. What is more shocking is that the hoarding even after being illegal was said to be Asia’s largest hoarding. Were the authorities fast asleep? If the BMC only permits the construction of hoardings that are upto 40x40 feet, how come a 120x120-foot hoarding was erected right under their noses? How was it even allowed?”

He added, “My uncle’s family comprises a boy and girl, my aunt [wife of the deceased] and his aged mother who have no one to look after them now. They fall way below the poverty line and we usually support them. They live in a rented house in a chawl and he [Dhanesh] did fabrication work on a daily wage basis, often undertaking delivery assignments, transporting fabrication material from Kurla to Mulund. The family came to Mumbai some 12 years ago from Bihar.”

He added, “The compensation is not at all sufficient for the family as my cousins’ education needs to be looked after. My female cousin and her wedding expenses are to be looked after. It would be better if one of them is offered a government job so that they can look after their grandmother, mother and other sibling.”

Doc Speak 

Dr Bharati Rajuwala, medical superintendent, Rajawadi hospital
‘As of 9 pm on May 19, eight of the total injured admitted to Rajawadi hospital are stable. One of the patients underwent knee surgery on May 18 and is on the route to recovery. Four individuals decided to seek discharge against medical advice. The rest were discharged according to their medical conditions.’ 

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