08 Jan 2016 18:46 IST

Hoardings: A blot on the urban landscape

They are often used to gain political mileage, which can pose a threat to law and order

Hoardings and posters play an important part in our lives. They inform, educate, entertain and titillate. This one by the AIB humorists is both entertaining and satirical.

On the other hand, it is a different matter when these billboards eat up the already squeezed-for-space urban landscape. Have you noticed how many owners like to stick the same poster one after the other, blinding out everything else in the vicinity? Those in Chennai wouldn’t have missed a jewellery company’s store opening last year. Almost every corner had huge billboards of stars asking everyone to rush to the company’s store. Even the platforms at the Chennai Central railway station were not spared.

Earlier this week, police in the southern metro arrested three activists of a group who pulled down hoardings of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa that had been erected for a political meet on December 31. The three alleged that the hoardings, almost 4,000 in number that were spread through the city, were illegal and blocked streets and signage, causing inconvenience to the public. A newspaper reported that the police were unmoved when a few residents complained of the hoardings, but were swift to arrest those who tried to remove the eyesores.

This is not something new. In May last year, members of the AIADMK had similarly blanketed the arterial Mount Road for their leader. This is a picture that I had tweeted . How does one stop the menace?

Judicial interference

There is increasing judicial activism on the issue. The Chennai Collector has now been asked to present details of approvals given to the December 31 hoardings. From Kochi to Delhi, the judiciary in these cities have heavily come down on the administrators for the unchecked billboards. Kochi had passed regulations to restrict cinema posters and hoardings to designated locations, but implementation holds the key.

I had earlier written about Bhubaneswar, having been impressed by the cleanliness of its roads, and the bill-free walls. In December, the local Municipal Corporation said it will identify designated places in each of the 67 wards where advertising would be permitted and had said that it would also publish a list of the no-hoarding zones.

Luckily for the State administration, political parties seem to be cooperating, so far. The absence, or even a minimal presence, of political posters in the capital is perceivable. Other cities have not been as lucky.

A recent story by Mid-Day on the hoarding problem in Mumbai gives an idea why the problem is escalating. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) took down over 10,000 illegal banners in 2015, but alerted the police in only about 1,700 cases. Not to be outdone, the police registered FIR in only 67 of these cases. The paper quoted a municipal official saying, “But if you ask me why cases are not being converted into FIRs, I think, a lot of BMC officials are scared of registering an FIR against particular people. They do it against unknown people. Then what is the use? The person should be named, only then will he not repeat the offence. But who will bell the cat?”

Political and religious

It is not just the fear of the political kind that holds back officials and the police. Of the 10,314 posters that were brought down by the BMC, more than half were political; over 3,500 of them were religious.

In these sensitive and intolerant times, a torn poster of a particular religion is enough to ignite a riot anywhere in India. In October last year, a torn poster of Maharishi Valmiki in a village near Jalandhar resulted in a protest and panic among the residents.

In some of the cases, while the approval is given for religious posters, political hoardings are put up instead, making supervision more difficult.

The city administrators are armed with enough regulations, but the will power to implement these is low. Things will only improve when leaders of political parties, who otherwise claim to be following the law, send the message down the cadre. Hoardings don’t win elections;they just create noise.