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Who?s afraid of SC: Hoardings are back

Despite an SC ban, MCD has approved hoardings on Delhi roads, report Archis Mohan and Vibha Sharma. Are hoardings and billboards a necessary evil?

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 03:16 IST

The Delhi Police call them a traffic hazard. Urban planners say they are an eyesore. And the Supreme Court banned them in 1997. But nearly a decade on, hoardings and billboards are back on Delhi roads.

Hoardings were banned by the apex court after lawyer MC Mehta argued that they distracted motorists and could lead to accidents. But in the past six months, the MCD has approved hoardings on sites where it claims they will not be traffic hazards.

This is contempt of court, says Delhi Traffic Police.

Urban town planners are also unhappy but concede that hoardings are a ‘necessary evil’. They have asked for designated sites to be identified for hoardings.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Metro and Indian Railways have given advertisers carte blanche to buy hoardings on railways-owned land. The police recently asked civic agencies to pull these down.

The police accuse the MCD of wanting to make money at the cost of road safety. The civic agency counters that the police have a blinkered approach to the issue.

“Data about the number of accidents caused by the presence of hoardings may not be available but most agree that drivers get compelled to see hoardings, and a momentary lapse in concentration can lead to an accident,” says Qamar Ahmed, chief, Traffic Police.

The MCD is unmoved. “Across India and the world, civic agencies earn huge revenues by allowing advertisers to erect billboards,” says an official. “This money is used for improving civic services. Why should Delhi not benefit?”

Six months ago, the MCD set up a Revenue Augmentation Committee to look into the issue. The committee is preparing models for allowing billboards to come up.

To identify a safe signboard, parameters like the distance from traffic, the density of traffic in the area and the billboard's structural soundness will be considered. But the police have listed about a hundred new billboards which do not conform to such guidelines.

The MCD had invited the police to be part of the process and apprise the cell of its objections on individual cases. The police have rejected the invitation.

To bolster its case, the MCD cites a 2001 Madras High Court judgment that apparently observes that only those hoardings which are traffic hazards be banned. The police say they are unaware of the HC judgment and swear by the 1997 Supreme Court judgment.

“You allow one, and in no time the city's streets will be full of this clutter, as it was in the mid-1990s,” says a police officer.

The MCD wants hoardings to carry an approval number. But currently, 90 per cent of the hoardings in the city are illegal.

First Published: Jun 17, 2006 01:08 IST