Mumbai hoarding crash: Court asks why accused fled if not responsible

The accused opposed his arrest saying the high velocity of the wind that led to the hoarding collapse was an "act of God"

Bhavesh Bhinde arriving in Mumbai (photo: PTI)
Bhavesh Bhinde arriving in Mumbai (photo: PTI)


A Mumbai court on Friday remanded Bhavesh Bhinde, director of the advertising firm which had installed the hoarding that collapsed in Ghatkopar and claimed 16 lives, in police custody until May 26, noting that the incident was "against humanity" as innocent people lost their lives owing to the crash of the illegal billboard.

If the accused was not responsible for the act, why did he flee from Mumbai after the incident, as his presence would have facilitated the probe into the matter, the court said in the remand order.

The accused opposed his arrest saying the high velocity of the wind that led to the hoarding collapse was an "act of God" and was not in his control.

Bhinde, who was on the run following the hoarding collapse incident on 13 May, was finally arrested from Udaipur in Rajasthan on Thursday and brought back to Mumbai. His advertising firm Ego Media Pvt Ltd managed the giant hoarding which collapsed on a petrol pump during a dust storm.

As Bhinde absconded after the incident, police registered a case against him for alleged 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). After his arrest, the crime branch of Mumbai Police produced Bhinde before additional chief metropolitan magistrate (Esplanade court) K.S. Zanwar and sought custody for 14 days.

Bhinde's agency managed three or four more hoardings, and a thorough investigation was needed in the matter, the police said.

An amount of Rs 5 crore is required to manage one hoarding, and the police need to probe financial aspects of Bhinde's business, besides finding out who gave the certificate for structural stability and permissions for installation, they told the court. Further, the police mentioned that they needed to find out if other persons were also involved in the incident.

Appearing for the accused, advocate Rizwan Merchant claimed that the police did not tell Bhinde the grounds of his arrest, which made the remand plea invalid. Citing a recent Supreme Court order, the advocate said since the ground of his arrest was not provided to the accused in writing his custody is "illegal".

He also mentioned that there is not a simple whisper in the remand application about the grounds of arrest and not even a single document before the court in this regard. It is a violation of his fundamental rights and this court needs to ensure that the constitutional safeguard is adhered to, he submitted.

The lawyer told the court that the accused was not responsible for the collapse incident as he was not the director of the firm when it received the hoarding contract. Bhinde became the director of the firm in December 2023 while the contract for the ill-fated hoarding was given to Ego Media in November 2022. Hence, he cannot be held responsible for what happened at that point of time, the lawyer argued.

On the charges of section 304 (doing any rash or negligent act), the lawyer of the accused said he has been booked due to "public outcry" and "election fever".

"On that day, the velocity of wind was 96 kmph and it's not true that only one structure collapsed. There was another structure that collapsed in the Wadala area. They have not applied for (section) 304 there," the lawyer argued. "Velocity of the wind is not in my control...It is an act of God. It is absolutely insane to say that I had knowledge that there will be wind of that velocity on that day."

Also, the structural audit report says that the structure is safe and sound. Hence section 304 is not applicable in the case, he added.

The court, after hearing both sides, noted that after perusal of the entire document, it was revealed that the ground of Bhinde's arrest was mentioned in the arrest memo and duly signed by the accused.

Hence, it is not feasible to say that the ground of arrest was not communicated. Therefore, the precedence of the Supreme Court is not applicable to the matter in hand, the magistrate noted.

Responding to Bhinde's contention, the court said whether he was director or responsible person (of the firm) at the time of getting permission is part of the investigation. But at the relevant time, he is the director of Ego Media.

The investigation is at a primary stage and the police did not get ample time to find out the truth. The offence is serious in nature and it is very much necessary to grant the custody of the accused to police, the court said, adding that it was of the view that rejection of the remand application would "frustrate the very object of investigation" and "paralyse the probe".

As per the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, it had not granted permission for the hoarding.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines