In less than six days since the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha polls kicked in on March 5, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has removed 4,391 illegal hoardings, posters and banners, three-fourths of which were put up by political parties. The civic body intends to remove all illegal banners and hoardings by Thursday.
“We have formed a team in every ward to remove illegal banners. Ward officers have been instructed to ensure total compliance. We have set a deadline of March 13 to complete the task,” Additional Municipal Commissioner Mohan Adtani told Newsline. In the process, the corporation is also photographing the advertisements on display. “We will use this as proof while filing first information reports (FIRs) against the offenders,” he said.
“Based on the names on the hoarding, we identify the offenders and send a letter to the police asking them to take action. Simultaneously, we begin our prosecution under sections 328, 328 (A) and 471 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) that deals with defacement,” superintendent of BMC’s licences department, Sharad Bande, said.
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Exactly a year ago, on March 14, the Bombay High Court had banned illegal banners, hoardings and posters in the city and other metros in Maharashtra. It had given the civic bodies 24 hours to remove all such advertisements, and held that henceforth, municipal commissioners of these corporations would be held as co-conspirators for failing to strictly implement the ban.
Subsequently, the civic administration sought the cooperation of political parties to introduce a policy that would prevent proliferation of banners across the city. Leaders of various parties and statutory committees in the BMC cleared the policy last summer, but they themselves have failed to approve the administration’s draft policy till now.
Mayor Sunil Prabhu, who belongs to Shiv Sena and presides over the meeting of group leaders, said, “We have identified a few problems with the draft policy that need to be addressed. Once these issues are resolved, we are likely to pass the policy. This may be approved after the Lok Sabha elections.” Opposition leader in the BMC, Devendra Amberkar, said the main problem area in the policy related to allowing these advertisements during festivals such as Ganpati, Diwali, Eid and Christmas.
Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh, who is also a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections from North-East Mumbai, alleged the civic administration was delaying approval. “The group leaders are ready to approve the policy, but the administration is delaying it. For some reason or the other, they have delayed bringing the policy for discussion.”
A senior BMC official said, “The policy has been ready for months now. The High Court categorically sought a full ban on hoardings, but there have been negotiations to make exceptions. Despite agreeing to these, the policy has yet to be approved. We will include these facts in a report to be submitted to the court.”
Since the court order in March last year, the Corporation has removed close to 40,000 illegal hoardings, banners and posters, more than 70 per cent of which are political. During the same period, the civic body has initiated prosecution in 1,229 cases (where parties have been fined for the offence), and written 761 letters to the Mumbai police to file FIRs for defacement.
“Licence inspectors in various wards are still in the process of filing FIRs. This takes longer as we have to verify the offender before we can carry out prosecution,” Bande said.