The Karnataka High Court, on Wednesday, once again reprimanded the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials regarding the issue of illegal hoardings.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice R Devadas said that the authorities were ‘not least bit concerned’ about the issue of illegal hoardings.
The High Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition regarding the removal of advertising panels including flex banners on Wednesday.
“Why has the BBMP and the Urban Development Department not formulated bye-laws regarding outdoor advertisements yet? You are saying that the bye-law was formulated in 2016 and yet years later you are sitting on it,” Chief Justice Maheshwari said while reprimanding the officials.
The Chief Justice also said that despite holding negligent authorities responsible multiple times, nothing has been done.
“I am holding the Chief Secretary responsible for this rather than negligent subordinating officers. This is extreme negligence and an insult to the establishment,” he added.
He also ordered the BBMP submit to submit a comprehensive advertisement policy before the court “What policy you make is your prerogative but Bengaluru must be free of flexes and you must see to it,” Chief Justice Maheshwari said.
The next hearing has been posted to August 10.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka State Digital Printers and Flex Banners Association has decided to launch a protest regarding BBMP’s decision to pull down the hoardings without any warning.
SN Krishnappa, President of the Association, who met with BBMP officials said that over 10 lakh people’s livelihoods depended on outdoor advertising.
“Instead of informing us and issuing notices to stop the printing, they have shut down the printing centres. This is not fair. Many of the printers have other printing machines apart from those of flex banners and the BBMP has no right to shut legitimate businesses down,” he added.
Why are flex banners such a menace in the city?
Sources in the BBMP say that one of the main reasons why illegal hoardings are never removed is due to the fact they outsource the enforcement of ensuring that these banners are not put up, like most other operations carried out by BBMP.
BBMP has contracted the system of removing hoardings to private parties. “Generally, these contractors collude with advertisers and form an agreement to not remove the flex banners, which is why they continue to pop up everywhere,” the BBMP official said.
One of the biggest hurdles is that the BBMP does not have a clear cut bye-law regarding the management of outdoor advertisements in the city.
The BBMP had in 2006 formulated ‘Advertisement Bye-laws.’ In February 2012, the BBMP Standing Committee for Taxation and Finance passed a resolution to revise the bye-laws as the existing ones were ambiguous and had many loopholes. The BBMP Council had also passed the resolution in agreement with the Standing Committee.
It was only in July 2013 that the Karnataka government approved the resolution but in 2014, Ambal Advertising Agency moved the High Court, when the BBMP had called for public consultation regarding the new bye-laws.
The High Court had dismissed the petition saying that since the bye-laws were not notified in the gazette, there was still room for change and any issue the advertiser had must be taken up with the BBMP.
In 2016, however, the new bye-laws was sent for government approval and the Karnataka government amended it in the Assembly.
The new bye-law increased the advertisement tax from Rs 26 per sq m to Rs 260 per sq m. The new law also gave BBMP powers to tear down illegal hoardings without issuing notices to advertisers. It also gave them the right to cancel the business registration of the ad agency in question.
“Now, the problem is about enforcement. Many livelihoods also depend on outdoor advertisement. Although it seems appropriate in a civic sense, the new bye-laws are also unclear about the illegal hoardings, the penalties to be paid and moreover, there has to be a comprehensive policy for it,” the BBMP official added.