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They died… they were not your kin, after all!

   By Vijay Darda | 20-05-2024

The hoarding mafia is active in the country… from leaders to officers, all are hand in glove… now court is the only hope

You are a leader, sir. You are an officer, sir. You are an expert in making the entire system dance to your tune, sir! You may find my words unpleasant, perhaps interpreting them as belittling. So allow me to rephrase it: the system is under your control and you are the government, sir! You don’t have the time to worry about the lesser mortals called ‘common man’! Those 16 people who were trapped under the giant illegal hoarding and died an untimely death in Mumbai, were not your relatives, so why should you mourn them? Sir, the common man is born to die. And you are not a common man, after all..!

However, there is a question, sir! Do you not believe that this is not a case of accident but one of murder of 16 persons? And yes, indeed, I recall that a case of culpable homicide has been filed at Pantnagar police station against Bhavesh Bhinde, the proprietor of Ego Media, the company responsible for erecting this illegal billboard. However, the question remains, why was a case of ‘culpable homicide’ registered? When this colossal billboard measuring 120 feet by 120 feet was being illegally installed at a height of 100 feet, did neither the municipal corporation nor the Railways know that, as per rules, hoardings larger than 40 feet by 40 feet are prohibited in that particular area in Mumbai? Everyone knows everything, sir, but when all are involved in corruption, one’s conscience gets compromised. Even if we assume that your conscience remained intact, you would have still been overwhelmed by Bhavesh’s overpowering influence. It is rumoured that he has 26 police cases registered against him and in 2009, he even contested as an independent candidate for the Mulund Assembly constituency.

Sir, this unholy nexus of officials and leaders is killing the system. It is not just about Mumbai, sir. Such tragic incidents have occurred in Maharashtra and many other cities across the country too. The recent tragedy in Mumbai resulted in the loss of 16 innocent lives and left over 70 people injured, leading to a public outcry. Will you not wake up until people die? You may say that an audit of the hoardings is conducted every two years. So my question is why illegal hoardings are not detected during these audits. Reports suggest that there are a total of 1,025 hoardings in Mumbai, with 179 falling within the railway limits. Does Mumbai really have only as many hoardings? And what is this jurisdiction issue between the municipal corporation and the Railways? That is your problem, sir! For the families which have lost their earning members, all the officials and leaders who allowed the hoardings to be erected and turned a blind eye, are murderers.

I am currently on a trip to the US and Mexico and I don’t see any hoardings anywhere along the beautiful roads. I am watching the pedestrians walking on the footpath and I am reminded of the footpaths back home which are replete with shops. There is not even a single banner visible here but what is the situation in our country? Political parties consider it as their birthright to erect hoardings on the bridges, traffic booths, intersections and dividers. Even the electric poles are not spared. Hoardings are erected illegally, either in the name of some person or God. They even cover historical buildings. I wish to ask our sensitive chief minister Eknath Shinde and also the chief ministers of other states as to why they do not implement strict rules to get rid of hoardings. We are going to become the third largest economy in the world, and our behaviour should also align with our status accordingly! I recall the proactive approach taken by Justice P N Bhagwati during his tenure as the Chief Justice of India, where the court conducted hearings suo moto. Subsequently, high courts in different states issued guidelines and issued orders on this matter. In December 2023, the Maharashtra government was reprimanded by the Bombay High Court for its failure to take action against illegal hoardings and banners. Since 2017, the court has consistently directed the state government and various municipal corporations to address this issue. It has explicitly stated that public spaces should not be utilised by political, religious or commercial organisations for personal gain through hoardings on roads and footpaths. However, institutions like the municipal corporations, MMRDA and Metro have continued to disregard these directives, thanks to the strong politician-official nexus. Right from the ones stealing water to those stealing bridges, the country has dozens of such mafias, sir. The system has become worse. Sir, you might not have forgotten the tragic incident of children’s death in Bhandara. What happened to that case? How many people were punished?

The court is the only beacon of hope, for this mafia does not listen to anyone at all. I have reached a conclusion that unless the authorities or individuals responsible for erecting illegal and dangerous billboards are held accountable, they will not comply. Sir, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Therefore, I implore you to take action. Please do something, sir. Otherwise, people possess the powerful weapon of vote, sir, and nobody should underestimate that.

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