Hoardings Hoardings Everywhere, Where is the City?
If you want to see how your city looks like, now is the time, with hoardings and banners taken down. If these hoardings and banners come up and dot every skyline, every chowk, every signal and ever corner, the city's aesthetic is lost amongst the glossy photographs of political leaders and political aspirants, Aadhar card announcements and birthday wishes!
As these hoardings are coming down ruthlessly (thanks to the Hon. Commissioner Mahesh Pathak for taking the HC directive seriously), I see that there are primarily two categories of hoardings.
One, are large glittery advertisements, actually mounted on massive gantries and steel structures. While the second category consist of flex banners on corners mounted on simple wooden posts. I always knew that these flex banners are illegal and have spoken against them time and again in various platforms and also written blogs about them. But I was shocked to see that even the, seemingly 'legal' hoardings are also illegal. I could, to some extent, understand that its difficult for the municipal administration to remove and keep a check on simple flex banners that dot every road corner and chowk. But I was flabbergasted that the administration has not been able to check illegal massive gantries and steel structure hoardings across the city. And these, even more than the flex banners, have literally defaced buildings, architecture and city's skyline. While defacing the city, these hoardings have been used as shanty shelters, with literally a family staying between two hoardings situated at a very prime and vantage location near Sancheti Hospital.
I am assuming that the investment to install a hoarding is done by a media and advertising company, who then charged heft rental payments for advertising products. How have these companies installed these illegal hoardings? How did they decide on the location of hoardings? How did they encroach on the land to build the structures for these illegal hoardings? And while this was happening across the city, was the administration sleeping? Or was a non descript office in the administration granting 'illegal' permits to these illegal hoardings? Why did it have to take a public interest litigation to wake up the slumbering administration? But I think, at least this massive drive of pulling down this first category of illegal hoardings may ensure a 'hoarding free' city for some considerable time, if not permanently.
Coming to the second kind of hoardings - simple, flex banners on wooden posts that are much more of a nuisance. These are at the eye level, there is no fixed size, there is no fixed angle and there are absolutely no rules for putting these up anywhere. These are printed in every other printing shop in the city and are so temporary that some serve the purpose of just wishing a person Good Morning on his or her birthday!
Typically, a team of 2-3 men arrive, with the printed and mounted banner at the 'designated' location with wooden posts in a small tempo traveler, material is off loaded, roads are dug, paving blocks from footpaths are removed to insert the wooden posts and voila, the faces of political aspirants and their leaders are staring at us, all in 20 minutes. As the purpose of this banner ends, the next one of other fifty aspirants and their leaders sprout up.
During the election campaign that I contested in February 2012, I and my team vigorously debated the purpose and utility of these flex banners. "How will people know you in your ward?", was a common argument for putting up flex banners. And frankly, there seemed to be a lack of any suitable alternative, effective media that we could think of that will give us the same benefit as the flex banners. The convenience of a very meager cost and labor vis-a-vis the sudden outreach and visibility is the greatest benefit of such a banner, I had realised, much to my regret.
So, in fact, while taking these hoardings down is easier, its a difficult job to maintain this 'down' status. Unless, we find an effective media or a specific media for public outreach, which is cheap and effective, it will be impossible to keep these hoarding off the streets in our city. Fines and punishments may work for a while, but what is needed is an alternative media for outreach.
I, along with some others, have also thought that we could have a 'Graffiti Wall' - a designated place, where the 'announcements' of public projects and information can be put up. These are designed, minimally charged for rent and aesthetically pleasing. Also, the content on the 'Graffiti Wall' is moderated to an extent that it can provide valuable public information,along with photos (because that is somehow very important), but cannot have birthday wishes. Birthday wishes should be strictly in the form of a greeting card sent directly to the recipient, don't you think?
But above all, if we need to keep these hoardings from reappearing, we need to educate citizens to not accept these hoardings as our urban landscape. Not to accept the fact that anyone can use the city's space for their own personal benefit. Not to accept the fact that our city's roads are free to be dug up for every post that needs to be go in. Not to accept the litter, the defacing of our city, an urban visual mess it creates and the induced stress for all of us. Not to accept the blocked views, the blocked footpaths, and the dark, unsafe spots and a generally illegible urbanity that then grows around our homes uncontrolled!