As is with the case with any poll-bound state, political parties in Karnataka are ramping up their election propaganda. With the elections just a little more than a month away, the challenge for candidates is to stand out from the crowd and be recognisable. It is of little surprise that buntings and hoardings have sprung up dime a dozen around the city with names and pictures of political leaders.
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However, most of these are illegal and are propped up on road dividers, footpaths and trees, which pose a problem for road users besides being eyesores. Since flex banners are also made of plastic, there is the environmental impact to be considered. So what are our options to deal with this menace?
Let’s look at the laws these buntings and banners violate.
- The Karnataka Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement Act), 1981 according to which you cannot erect, inscribe or advertise without written permission from the local authority. The punishment for breaking with law is Rs 1,000 or a six month imprisonment or both.
- The Karnataka Municipalities Act 1964 which also prevents any kind of advertisements without the written permission of the municipal government without a payment of tax.
Those putting up the banners workaround this using the Deemed Permission Clause, where the requesting party is automatically granted the provision of license, registration or permission if there has been no response from the Palike in 45 days. The Standing Committee for Finance and Taxation had taken note of this and had asked for an amendment since the Palike loses crores in advertising revenue.
Citizen Matters could not confirm any action taken in this regard. Till September 2017, the Palike had identified about 3000 illegal banners and flexes according to the Department of Advertising and claimed to have removed about a thousand.
The National Green Tribunal had allowed the states to determine whether flexes were to be banned when it passed its orders for a ban on plastic. The High Court of Karnataka last year banned flexes in the city in continuation of its order in 2016 which banned plastic bags in the city. The BBMP Commissioner in 2017 had said that Palike was working towards shutting down all flex printing units. However a quick online search for these services yield about 2529 results in Bangalore that still continue to offer these services.
Election Commission rules for banners and buntings
Election Commission also monitors the use of buntings and banners and has set aside a few rules and regulations on how buntings and banners can be used. But these come into effect when the Election Commission announces dates and the code of conduct kicks in. The rules are written into the Handbook for Candidates. The Commission endorses the local laws that deal with defacement of public or private properties.
Point B in the section Defacement of Private Properties says:
If the local law does not expressly permit wall writing, pasting of posters, and similar other permanent/semi-permanent defacement which is not easily removable, the same shall not be resorted to under any circumstances, even on the pretext of having obtained the consent of the owner of the property. This will also apply in the states where there is no local law on the subject of prevention of defacement of property.
As we know, Bengaluru has a plastic ban and flex ban in place, which bans any single-use plastic material from being used. Club this with Karnataka Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement Act), 1981 and Karnataka Municipalities Act 1964, and the flexes and plastic buntings and banners with or without permission become totally illegal. Hence erecting flex banners is illegal according to this ban, be it private or public property.
But sadly, flex banners are omnipresent, and they carry images of every important and wanna-be-important politician in town, right from the Prime Minister to Chief Minister to local contractors affiliated to the party.
The handbook also mentions the rules for fixing banners and posters in public spaces. Written permission from the authorities or property owners is a must in all occasions, and the publicity materials must not inconvenience anyone.
Tackling illegal publicity material isn’t easy
In February of 2018, a PIL was filed against these illegal hoardings making the Commissioner of Police a party to it. Geetha Misra, a resident of Rajajinagar, who has been working on the issue says: “The reason why the police department was made party to this litigation is because, these flimsy structures are tied on road dividers or block access to footpaths on busy roads. A strong gust of wind can get dislodge them. This creates a problem for traffic and can bodily harm motorists and pedestrians alike.”
On March 1st, the High Court gave an order to BBMP and the state government, asking the to submit an action taken report and an action-to-be-taken report on the menace. Geetha says a citizen can take pictures of the illegal hoardings and bring them to the notice of the Assistant Executive Engineer in the ward, asking him to take action.
The Palike however has a different way to report these hoardings. The responsibility of identifying and removing the illegal banners fall under the eight zonal Assistant Revenue Officers, supervised by the Joint Commissioner of that zone. You can also approach the Assistant Commissioner for Advertising to complain.
As a citizen, you can:
- Identify illegal hoardings or banners around you. Confirm whether it is illegal, by asking the advertiser a copy of the permission letter.
- Once the illegality is confirmed, submit a letter to the Zonal ARO along with copies of pictures of the same requesting for action.
However there is no stipulated timeline for action.
If it is a flex banner or plastic publicity item, you can complain with the health inspectors of the ward, or BBMP health department, who must, as per procedure, take steps to remove them. You can also complain in bbmp.sahaaya.in website.
If it is an election-related poster, you can also complain to Election Commission and bring the advertisements to the notice of election expenditure observers, who will add it to the expense of the candidate or the party.
Note: Shree D.N. contributed to this article.