“How many more litres of blood do you want to paint the roads with?” These were the observations made by the Madras High Court a day after 23-year-old Chennai techie Subhasri was run over by a tanker after an illegal AIADMK hoarding fell on her. The High Court lashed out at the Tamil Nadu government for failing to implement its orders on erecting hoardings, stating it was tired of passing multiple orders against illegal hoardings and banners.
The division bench comprising Justice Seshasayee and Justice Sathyanarayanan was hearing a petition filed by activist ‘Traffic’ KR Ramaswamy over the Tamil Nadu government’s failure to check illegal hoardings despite a court order banning them. Slamming the government, the HC said, “The authorities have not followed the court’s orders pertaining to the banners. Even after multiple warnings, nothing has been implemented. We cannot do the government’s job.”
With Subhasri being only the latest victim of these illegal hoardings that have turned death traps, the judges asked, “Is this the value that the life of a citizen has in this country? Why are bureaucrats so insensitive? These flex boards don't come up overnight.”
Laying the blame for Subhasri’s death on the government, Justice Seshasayee said, “There is zero respect for lives in this country. It's bureaucratic apathy. Sorry we have lost faith in the government. There has been no response to any of our orders.” As the hoardings were put up by former AIADMK councilor S Jayagopal to announce his son’s wedding, the court questioned, “Can't that politician have conducted the family marriage without flex boards?”
Questioning the state on its negligence, the court asked, “How did they allow such banners to be put up, occupying public space and disrupting traffic, for a private function of an individual in the first place?”
“How many more deaths is the government and the authorities awaiting?” slammed the bench even as the judges were quick to observe that it was not just one party that was flouting the law. “No matter which party comes to power, the government authorities become the agents of that party. The authorities solve the issue by just offering compensation to the family after the accident.”
The HC observed that no political party has responded to the court’s notices nor come out with a statement against flex boards. The division bench also drew attention to the AIADMK flags that were erected on Kamarajar Salai along Marina Beach on Friday for a function that was attended by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam. “Who allowed party flags on the median opposite Madras University on Beach Road? Are political parties extra-constitutional authorities?” slammed the court.
Pulling up CM Edappaadi Palaniswami, the court directed him to make a statement to his party cadre to not put up such illegal hoardings. “It must be the state's resolve to prevent illegal flex boards. Make it a movement in the state that we'll not do anything that harms the citizens of this country,” stated the bench.
While the Advocate General sought two days’ time and promised that the police would take stern action, the High Court asked officials to remove all party flags from Kamarajar Salai (Beach Road) and report to it by 2.15 pm on Friday.
This isn’t the first time that the High Court has pulled up the state government. In 2017, the Madras HC had banned flex boards and hoardings that featured images of living persons. The ruling was passed five days after the death of a 32-year-old engineer in Coimbatore in November 2017. Raghunath's bike hit an illegal wooden hoarding and he fell from his bike, after which a truck ran him over.
The HC then ordered the removal of all illegal hoardings in the district ahead of the MGR birth centenary celebrations at the time.
In December 2018, the Madras High Court had directed that no registered or even unregistered political party should erect flex boards that would cause inconvenience to motorists and pedestrians. This came after the government, local bodies, as well as police officials failed to regulate the display of flex boards on roadsides in accordance with the law.
On January 11, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the state government as well as to the Centre, directing them to restrict political parties from erecting digital banners. In March, the apex court reiterated the ban on political messaging in the state. The court then said that public places such as hills, hillocks and medians of highways are not to be defaced with political messages.
The political parties in the state, including the AIADMK, have been repeatedly found to be flouting the rules and erecting life-size hoarding of its leaders, which even occupy a large portion of the footpaths.