Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had ordered 'immediate' removal of illegal hoardings from across the state a month back. However, the NRI affairs department headed by his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia has set up scores of illegal hoardings across Doaba region to welcome Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) during the second leg of upcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan, scheduled for January 5.
The installation of hoardings comes even as contempt of the court proceedings on the issue are already on at the Punjab and Haryana high court. The Punjab government promotional billboards have been installed in an unauthorised manner in various parts of Doaba, including Phagwara, Goraya, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr.
These hoardings have also been installed just outside Cabana hotel, the venue of the NRI meet.
The information and public relations department had instructed district public relation officers (DPROs) in the Doaba region to ensure installation of these billboards so that government could get easy publicity on this count. Doaba region is hub of the NRI community in the state.
Unlike in the past, the Jalandhar administration has arranged unipoles approved by the municipal corporation for its promotional advertisement about the NRI meet, while authorities in other districts have chosen to do it the illegally.
These illegal hoardings carry the pictures of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir, Majithia and local bodies minister Chunni Lal Bhagat, while projecting Punjab as the best investment destination in the region. The message also invites the public to attend the meet.
Deputy commissioner Alak Nanda Dyal, SSP Inderbir Singh, ADC Gurpreet Khaira and SDM PP Singh, along with a battery of senior civil officials from Jalandhar, had conducted review meetings at the venue in the past two days, but none of them pointed out the violation of the law and the contempt of the court for 'obvious' reasons.
Dyal, when contacted, said that it was duty of the national highway authority of India and the SDM concerned to remove such illegal hoardings and take requisite action as per the Punjab Prevention of Defacement of Properties act.
SSP Inderbir Singh, on being informed of the Kapurthala police officials' involvement in installation of these hoardings, initially tried to justify the act by stating that these hoardings were not covered under the definition of illegal hoarding as per law.
However, on being reminded about Sukhbir's orders and the ongoing contempt proceedings, Singh said that he would surely look into such violations.
SDM PP Singh said that the information and public relations department had installed these hoardings. "Since you have brought issue of illegal hoardings to my notice, I will get these removed immediately," he said.
Though Dyal had ordered the sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs) concerned to ensure removal of illegal hoardings soon after Sukhbir's assertion in this regard, but the officials have apparently been paying little heed to the DC's orders.
Earlier on November 25, Sukhbir had announced the enactment of stringent laws to deal with those setting up illegal hoardings. He had recommended seven-year imprisonment. After HT reports revealed that defacement was continuously happening in the state, Sukhbir ordered that the DCs would be personally responsible for removal of illegal hoardings and implementation of new advertisement policy.
"I have asked the DCs and district police chiefs concerned to take requisite legal action against such violators," he had said, adding that nobody would be allowed to deface the cities.
What the act says
According to the Punjab Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1997, nobody could deface any public or private property by pasting posters, writing on the walls, wall paintings or putting up banners without the prior written permission from the owner of the property concerned. Besides, advertisements could only be displayed in the city at designated places after paying requisite fee to the civic body concerned.