There is a billboard epidemic in India!
Call it them examples of advertising vandalism, visual pollution or label them as the pox of outdoor advertising…or simply call them hoardings or billboards!
Though I am not against advertising, the number of billboards in our cities have reached epidemic proportions and I have developed an allergy to them. And guess what…most of them are illegal!
Ours is one of the few countries in the world where permission to put up hoardings is given easily (without urban skyline assessment) and where illegal billboards are ignored, specially those put up by political parties.
This inspite of the 1997 supreme court order banning hoardings (order to MCD, Municipal Corporation of Delhi) because they were “hazardous to traffic”. In 2004, Punjab and Haryana high courts passed similar orders. In March this year, the Delhi high court reiterated that the Supreme Court order had to be followed.
Something is happening. Rumbles of discontent from as as far back as a decade ago are now bearing fruit! In almost all the major cities of India, a move to get rid of billboards or at least regulate them, is gathering momentum. About time too, considering that the law has made it mandatory.
I first read about the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) wanting to ban hoardings in the city, and decided I would find out what was happening in the rest of the country…as well as a little about the rest of the world.
First Mumbai. The BMC wants to ban hoardings, whether illegal or legal. Areas are to be designated as “no-hoardings zones” and in other parts of the city, ugly hoardings will be substituted with “backlit, back-to-back advertisements, building wraps, neon signs and trivision ads.” And all this is slated to happen within the next 5-6 months.
Over the past few years a battle has been on in Pune to prevent hoardings from defacing the city. There are indications that the city plans to come down hard on illegal hoardings, but there is no visible sign of improvement as of today.
In Uttar Pradesh the urban development department does not want hoardings on highways (national, state and district) in the state. Municipal bodies of different cities also want dangerous hoardings removed from the roof tops of buildings, specially as many are poorly maintained and in danger of collapsing.
In Tamil Nadu the government is set on a plan to get rid of all illegal hoardings in six corporations – Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, Salem and Tirunelveli. As for hoardings which are erected for functions, they will be allowed only for three days before the function and two days after. Then the government will pull them down.
In Delhi, all hoardings that compromise road safety are to be removed.
In Bangalore, the BBMP (Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) is launching a drive to remove all illegal billboards from this month onwards.
In Hyderabad there are demands to remove hoardings from city junctions as they are a hazardous to traffic.
In Kolkata, there is a drive to pull down illegal hoardings.
Strong protests from the outdoor advertising lobby
While no one can protest too much about the razing of illegal hoardings, the outdoor advertising lobby is up in arms against Mumbai’s proposal to ban hoardings in large parts of the city. Some feel that such decisions are harmful, specially as many of our country’s populace is illiterate and need the hoardings! They feel that the outdoor advertising industry is being unnecessarily targeted, and that hoardings should be simply regulated, not banned. Naturally, they would feel so – a lot of money is involved.
Sure, billboards can be regulated, but first of all get rid of 60-70 percent of them! (It is believed that these many are illegal, many of them the small ones) In any case billboards, whether legal or illegal, should not be allowed to deface natural beauty, the city’s skyline, or cause safety hazards. No-hoarding zones as the BMC has proposed are the need of the hour!
The rest of the world
All over the developed world, billboards are regulated. The laws regulating the places where hoardings are to be put up are strictly enforced. But there are countries that have had billboard problems. Greece for example.
As recently as the year 2000, Athens city “embarked on a successful four-year project demolishing the majority of rooftop billboards to beautify the city for the tourists the games (2004 Summer Olympics) will bring, overcoming resistance from advertisers and building owners.” And just this year São Paulo, Brazil put in place a billboard ban to get rid of what their mayor called “visual pollution.”
In Japan, there are plans to strengthen the already strict rules for outdoor advertising, including a ban on rooftop advertising in certain cities. The aim is to preserve the skyline.
So while I do not completely echo the feelings of environmentalists who believe that “billboards and advertising in general contribute negatively to the mental climate of a culture by promoting products as providing feelings of completeness, wellness and popularity to motivate purchase,” I certainly feel that the advertising clutter that we are experiencing today in the modern world borders on vulgarity and is a sight for sore eyes. Outdoor advertising in particular can border on advertising vandalism because you can’t switch it off and you cannot keep it away.
(All pictures are copyrighted to me. They have been taken in Mumbai and Pune)
Update: A news report today says that residents need not give permission for billboards to be put up on their builidings! This indeed seems strange to me. Another thing, fines of Rs 1000/- to Rs 2000/- are too little to deter the offenders and that is why there are so many illegal hoardings. There is a move in Mumbai to increase penalties and come down heavily on repeat offenders.
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