Here’s why BBMP is unable to remove illegal hoardings

DECODING ILLEGAL ADVERTISING IN BANGALORE

In the first part of the series, we explained why the BBMP is not making any money from advertising. This part will explain the nexus between officials and enforcement contractors, how contractors make money in advertisement removal and the flawed enforcement contract system.

Illegal advertisement and hoarding removal is a web where the nexus between advertisers, officials and enforcement contractors raises its ugly head. What’s the role of enforcement contractors in advertisement?

Enforcement contractors are entrusted with the responsibility of removing illegal hoardings. A contractor with integrity, which is a rare breed to find in an area where the monthly income of one hoarding is more than a lakh, may actually remove the illegal hoardings without caring for the rest. Similarly a corrupt one may just retain the advertisement by colluding with the advertiser.

The enforcement contract system is not as simple as it appears. Joint Commissioner of one of the zones on the condition of anonymity told Citizen Matters that when it comes to enforcement, the biggest question is “who is going to remove the illegal ads.”

“There is no clarity on who has to remove the advertisements, specially the hoardings. BBMP staff can only remove the frame of the hoardings. It needs skilled workers to remove huge metal structures. The civic body lacks technical skill to dismantle the hoarding, hence the responsibility is given to enforcement contractors,” the officer explained.

A huge advertisement hoarding erected on a rajakaluve in Koramangala. Pic: Akshatha M

What happens on ground is totally different. For instance, in a meeting chaired by Assistant Commissioner (Advertisement) on December 19, 2014, then Revenue Inspector of Mahadevapura Zone, Buddhesh, had admitted that the contractors hired to remove hoardings were not doing their job effectively. “Work order was given to a contractor  to remove 10 hoardings in Mahadevapura zone, but he removed only one or two of them,” the Revenue Officer has been quoted in the meeting minutes, a copy of which is available with Citizen Matters.

Thus, once BBMP issues the work order to the contractor, there is no guarantee that the contractor removes the hoarding, until and unless the Assistant Revenue Officer (ARO) of the particular ward keeps a close tab on the contractor’s activities.

A ‘free of cost’ service

The contract system is very complex. In the absence of a uniform contract scheme, the system is designed to fail. Displaying a hoarding is worth lakhs of rupees a month for its owner, while it’s only the cost of the dismantled metal structure that the enforcement contractor will get.

That is precisely why, in most of the cases, the enforcement contractors offer to remove illegal hoardings “free of cost without burdening BBMP.” Here, the contractor ends up making his own deals with the owner of the illegal ads. The BBMP can in no way prevent this from happening currently, as there is lack of clarity on how the contract system should be put in place.

In February 2014, BBMP had issued contracts to five different enforcement contractors to remove illegal advertisements in Mahadevapura, RR Nagar, Yelahanka, Bommanahalli and Dasarahalli zones. In the work order, the contractors were told to carry out the removal drive and they were given the right to retain dismantled materials of hoardings and flexes with themselves.

Practically, these iron structures should have been handed over to BBMP and then be auctioned. According to a reliable source who closely watched the deal, 2,350 hoardings, flexes, banners, buntings and cut outs were removed during the following days and the contractors took away the iron materials.

But then, the AROs did not collect the penalty from advertisers and property owners as mentioned in the work order. With that, the BBMP only succeeded in removing few illegal advertisements, but no revenue was generated.

The model of paying 50% of “collected” penalty

Just a month before the five contracts were given, a work order was issued to another contractor to clear illegal hoardings. In the work order, the contractor was asked to clear illegal hoardings, banners and buntings, cut outs and posters of Bangalore East, West and South Zones.

However, here the tender condition was different. Contractor was instructed to hand over the seized materials from dismantled advertisements to BBMP. He was assured that he would be given 50 per cent of the “collected” penalty amount, as against his demand for 50 per cent share in the penalty “imposed.”

The contractor handed over the dismantled materials to BBMP, which the officials later auctioned. But the collected penalty amount was in peanuts, for reasons unknown. The officials did not collect penalty effectively—they were only interested in getting the hoardings removed as an eyewash. The result was, the contractor got peanuts for his work.

This was the reason why the BBMP was not ready to pay 50 per cent share of the penalty “imposed” to the contractor, but settled for giving share from “collected” amount. This too was not a workable contract system, considering the low penalty collection because of which the contractor had no profit.

“Payment per metric tonne” model

Eight months later, in October 2014, three more tender notices were issued to contractors to clear illegal hoardings, flexes, posters, banners and buntings from Yelahanka, Dasarahalli and East Zone. This time BBMP’s modus operandi was different. The contractors signed up for a quoted tender price of Rs 6,500 per Metric Ton of the collected iron material, i.e Rs 6.5 per kg. But nobody kept a tab on the quantity of dismantled materials, how much of it did the contractors surrender to BBMP, what did BBMP do with the materials.

Strangely, after four months, when the Assistant Commissioner (Advertisement) issued a notice to one of the contractors for whom tender was given to clear the advertisements in Yelahanka, the contractor sent a furious reply. The AC’s notice to contractor M Gangadharaswamy dated February 2nd, 2015, asks him why his contract should not be terminated and why not he be added to the black list. The notice says, “it has been over three months since you were given the work order, but you have not followed terms and conditions of the tender and has not furnished details of the illegal advertisements that you have removed. As you have caused crores of rupees loss to BBMP, why not we cancel the tender,” the AC questions.

In his reply, contractor M Gangadharaswamy justifies himself of having completed the work as per the directions of the Joint Commissioner and that he has submitted the eviction drive information to the Joint Commissioner. “I have incurred huge financial loss due to this contract as I was not provided with the list of illegal advertisement hoardings in the zone,” he says.

He goes to the extent of warning the AC of filing a court case demanding him to reimburse the loss that he has incurred in the advertisement enforcement contract, if at all the AC issues such a notice again.

Loopholes in contract system

The old tenders of Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike were different. In the tenders issued for removing illegal advertisements in 2004, the then BMP used to call for quotations. Apart from paying the amount to enforcement contractor for carrying out the work, the BMP was also paying for the machines that were used in the eviction drive. In one such contracts, Rs 16,000 was paid to the contractor for using crane, Rs 5,000 for JCB, Rs 3,000 for gas cutter, Rs 5,000 for compressor etc.

But this system too was not devoid of loopholes. According to a source, the problem with this system was the contractors submitting fake bills and getting paid by BMP. The new contract systems were introduced to lessen the burden on BBMP, but then they only incurred loss to Palike.

Often, the enforcement contractors who also own advertising agencies, are reluctant to remove the hoardings. When it comes to removing illegal advertisements, the contractors have their own ways to make money. Either they flee away with the dismantled pieces, or they get hand in glove with advertisers, accept kickbacks and get away without dismantling the structures. The advertiser who spends lakhs and earns crores from advertising is happy that his hoarding is saved, contractor gets his share, so are the officials who help by turning a blind eye.

Lack of database on illegal hoardings

All this happens in the absence of a proper database of legal and illegal advertisements with BBMP. Due to lack of database, there is no clarity in the tender process. Work orders do not specify the list of advertisements, size, location, name of the advertiser, owner of the property to be considered for eviction. The contract order merely directs the contractor to remove all illegal advertisements in a particular zone. Who defines these illegal advertisements, is the question that is left unanswered.

It is for the same reason, in November 2013, that the then-Additional Commissioner of Advertisement cancelled the tender citing that “there is no record of exact number of authorised and unauthorised hoardings.” In the order, a copy of which is available with Citizen Matters, ADC directed the Assistant Commissioner (Advt) to put up the file once they develop the database of hoardings.

Surprisingly, several work orders were issued even after this order was passed. In fact, this year the BBMP has set aside Rs 1.30 crore in its annual budget for carrying out the task of removing unauthorised advertisements.

The Joint Commissioner of one particular zone says that even after working for over a year as JC, he has not been able to understand the enforcement system for removing illegal advertisements. “There is no specific norm to be followed. Each tender is different from the other. A lot of confusion regarding tender process has caused hindrance to the work. A new advertisement policy is the need of the hour,” he stresses.

BBMP continues to follow the decade old Advertisement bye-law that does not suit the change in times. The next story explores what has been done to bring about a change in the advertising sector, what’s the status of initiatives and what has to be done.

Akshatha M
About Akshatha M 220 Articles

Akshatha M was a Staff Journalist at Citizen Matters. She tweets at @akshata1.