The political establishment has been feeling lost ever since the High Court of Madras pronounced an outright ban on parties erecting digital banners and hoardings along the streets and roads of Chennai. And as is always the case, a minor adjustment when it comes to interpretation of the judgement will soon help in getting these public nuisances back. If the news agencies are to be believed, the Corporation of Chennai is of the view that the ban pertains only to political parties and not organisers of “marriages, birthdays and other social celebrations.” We are not sure if religious events are also within the ambit of this interpretation and if so, the Corporation has pretty much opened up the city for the putting up of digital banners, flex boards and hoardings.
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It was in December 2018 that the High Court of Madras, irked at what it perceived as blatant violation of its earlier judgements, pronounced an outright ban on political parties putting up banners, boards and hoardings all along the principal thoroughfares of the city on a daily basis. Pedestrians found it next to impossible to negotiate the banners and the poles that held them up, the footpaths were repeatedly dug up to accommodate these temporary structures and motorists were put to risk as the banners blocked line of sight and often came crashing down as well. Political parties were the worst offenders, and they invariably put up banners without seeking police permission, something that the law enforcers chose to turn a blind eye to. This is why most public interest litigations filed in this matter focused on the role of political parties. The judgement too concerned these.
But the other offenders in this regard are not any less – organisers of weddings, birthdays, coming-of-age ceremonies and religious events. They too tend to block off road access and put walkers and motorists at risk. In this context it would have perhaps been better if the court order had included these latter groups as well. That the ban did not have much of an effect in reality made itself manifest in September 2019 when a woman riding a two-wheeler was killed when she hit a flex board. There was a hue and cry on media social and otherwise. The Government dawdled over arresting the offenders and oh, by the way, these men though belonging to the ruling party, had actually put up a hoarding for a family celebration.
Within a month of this horrendous occurrence, the Government took its first steps in surreptitiously relaxing the ban on digital banners. The Prime Minister was coming to Mamallapuram to meet the Chinese President and the authorities appealed to the Court that they be allowed to put up digital banners to welcome the dignitaries, this being the ‘traditional greeting’ we as Tamils extend visitors. The Court agreed and banners were put up. Since then you do see the odd hoarding going up – local political bosses have a way with the local police force. Some places more or less have permanent banners as well, though these are a lot less.
The latest relaxation, to allow banners for social occasions does not augur well. Most events of this kind, and this includes religious ones, have political undercurrents and so all parties will now take this route to erect banners and hoardings. They will conveniently take shelter under the so-called non-political nature of the event and justify the usage of banners. Everyone will be happy, all except the actual users of the road and they don’t really matter do they?
(This story was first published on Madras Musings. It has been republished with permission. The original article can be found here.)