In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we looked at the conflict between the BBMP and the state government on allowing advertisement hoardings in Bengaluru. While the former is pushing for a blanket ban on commercial hoardings, the latter wants to allow hoardings. In this part, we explore whether the hoarding ban proposed by BBMP is justified.
What is BBMP’s revenue from ad hoardings?
As per the advertisement scam unearthed by K Mathai, former BBMP Assistant Commissioner (Advertising), the BBMP had lost advertisement revenue of around Rs 2000 crore between 2005 and 2015. This was mainly because of advertisers putting up hoardings illegally, without paying the requisite fee to BBMP.
Mathai had contended that the BBMP could easily earn a minimum of Rs 300 crore annually as advertising revenue. But currently the Palike does not earn more than Rs 30 cr from hoardings annually.
In its 2018-19 annual budget, BBMP had proposed to collect advertisement tax of around Rs 75 crore. The budget was presented in February 2018. But by November end, the Palike had managed to collect only around Rs 18 crore.
Even after its recent decision to ban commercial hoardings, the BBMP Council hopes to collect high revenue from sponsored ads that it endorses – that is, ads on elevated walkways, foot-over-bridges etc. In this year’s (2019-20) budget, BBMP said it would formulate a new advertising policy that would earn it maximum revenue from these ads. The revenue estimated for this year is Rs 41.9 crore.
However, there has always been a huge gap between BBMP’s revenue estimates and its actual earnings. Even the Palike’s attempts to recover penalties for illegal hoardings has been poor. When the issue of illegal hoardings was being monitored by the High Court, in December 2016 BBMP submitted to the court that it would recover Rs 332 crore from the advertisers as interest, tax and penalties. But, a year later, BBMP informed the court that it could recover only Rs 56 cr.
In sum, advertisement hoardings are not a major revenue source for the BBMP. Rather, illegal hoardings have created huge revenue losses for the city.
What about environmental impact and aesthetics?
Kailash Koushik, Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Jain University, says there are enough spaces for advertisers to put up their ads, and it was high time hoardings and outdoor advertisements were banned by law. “This is a city, not a shopping mall,” he says.
Koushik further adds that outdoor advertisements appeared only in the 1930s because of the advancement of motorable roads and motor transport. The purpose of a hoarding is not to inform commuters, but to catch their attention, enough to retain itself in the public’s mind. “Advertisers have many other avenues for this now. It is time to move on and give public aesthetics a chance,” he says.
B G Chinnappa, a Bengaluru-based researcher in spatiality and critical geography, supports the ban on hoardings purely for aesthetic reasons. “I want the city’s skyline to be clear and aesthetically pleasing,” he says, adding the city emphasises a lot on beautification and in aspiring to look like the west, that it has completely neglected its heritage structures and the skyline. “There are many heritage structures in KR Puram and Chikpet that were completely marred by hoardings. So, apart from a ban on hoardings, there should be a policy to develop an aesthetics that is unique to this city,” Chinnappa says.
Asha Manvinasara, a teacher who worked as an event manager, says most ads on hoardings are topical and temporary. “When hoardings are replaced, a lot of toxic waste is generated since ad companies tend to use cheap material. If sustainable and environment-friendly methods are made mandatory for such ads, I don’t mind them,” Asha says.
Activist C N Kumar is of the opinion that the government can place reasonable restrictions on some rights of advertisers. However, “once the gates are open, there will be a flood of illegal hoardings,” he says. Kumar adds that enforcing and monitoring the law properly would be an issue, which would lead to a huge proliferation of hoardings again, compromising the aesthetics of the city. “Moreover, these ads are not bringing enough revenue to the government exchequer anyway, so I personally think outdoor ads should be banned,” he quips.
Lessons from other Indian cities
Bengaluru is not the only city to ban outdoor advertisements and hoardings in the country. New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have also taken steps towards being ad-free, with much of the impetus coming from the city municipalities themselves. Outdoor advertisements were either banned or restricted, mainly to address commercialisation of public spaces that has led to degradation of aesthetics, traffic safety, and the environment.
According to the think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, some cities have restricted outdoor advertising to specified zones, while a majority have imposed blanket bans on commercial hoardings on public streets and spaces.
After the 1997 Supreme Court order to remove all roadside hoardings in the capital city, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) appealed against the order in SC in 2007. MCD submitted a draft policy for outdoor advertisements, which was driven by the city’s development imperatives. Now outdoor hoardings are permitted in the city if they enhance the city’s aesthetics and are not a road safety hazard.
In Tamil Nadu, the Municipal Administration Department issued an Act that prohibits the erection of hoardings near schools, colleges, hospitals, at road junctions, and heritage structures. This law came after a 2008 Madras High Court order that banned unauthorised and hazardous hoardings.
In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), in an effort to protect the heritage-rich south Mumbai skyline, decided to keep areas with heritage structures hoarding-free. Hoardings are prohibited in specified zones in the city. Where these are permitted, the BMC has specified the size of hoardings and the spacing between them.