AFTER last week’s accident at Shahir Amar Shaikh Chowk, road users have started looking at over-sized commercial hoardings put up by the Indian Railways in the city as a safety hazard, but for the national carrier the hoardings remain an important source of revenue.
As per information obtained from the Central Railway, at present, the Pune Division of the Indian Railways has ongoing contracts worth Rs 55.16 crore with six different outdoor advertising agencies. The division earns as much as Rs 7 crore per annum by selling advertising rights on about 107 hoardings situated at 10 different zones, majority of which are in Pune city.
On October 5, four persons were killed while 11 others injured after a massive hoarding fell on around 14 people, who were waiting at the traffic signal near Juna Bazaar. As per Central Railway officials, the hoarding was being dismantled by a contractor hired by the railways when it came crashing down.
As the accident brought a sharp focus on the ‘oversized’ hoardings installed by the Railways — some of which are among the biggest in terms of size in the city — officials with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) claimed that the hoardings were “illegal” as the Railways had neither obtained the “requisite permission” from the civic body, nor had it paid the fees to put those up for commercial purposes. The PMC had also pointed out that the hoardings, most of which are 40×40 feet in dimension, violated the permitted 40×20 feet size limit in the city. PMC officials also made public the “repeated communications” they sent to the Railways to remove the hoardings. They have alleged that the Railways refused to remove the hoardings and “even used Railway Protection Force (RPF) to keep the PMC staffers who reached to remove them at bay”. As per railway authorities, the hoardings on its property are legal and PMC’s hoarding policy does not apply on properties owned by the Indian Railways.
As per the information obtained from sources, the hoardings, which are managed by the Commercial Department of the Pune Division, are source of a substantial revenue.
There is a total of 92,083 square feet display area on hoardings facing roads that have been let out by the Pune Division to six different companies under seven-year contract in 10 different zones. “Pune Division earns about Rs 7 crore per annum from contracts awarded to advertising firms to use these hoardings,” said a Railway official.
The official added that out of the total 107 hoardings that are installed on Railway properties, only 56 are presently being commercially used by private agencies as the rest either failed to do the structural stability audit or failed the audit.
“The 51 hoardings that either failed the stability audit or the private contractor did not do it have been dismantled. Soon, 24 more hoardings will be dismantled,” said the railway official.