Issue guidelines for parties over illegal banners: HC tells EC

Issue guidelines for parties over illegal banners: HC tells EC

Issue guidelines for parties over illegal banners: HC tells EC
The Bombay High Court today asked the Election Commission to impose conditions on political parties at the time of their registration that they would not indulge in defacement of properties as per the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act and laws governing skysigns and advertisements. The high court also asked the EC to consider issuing proper guidelines to compel the registered political parties against putting up illegal hoardings and posters not only during elections, but all throughout.

The order was delivered by a division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka which heard a bunch of petitions filed by Suswaraj Foundation, Janhit Manch and others challenging illegal hoardings, banners and posters put up on roads, streets and public places by political parties and various other organisations. "It was high time that the Election Commission stepped in to ensure that political parties and its workers remained within bounds in so far as illegal hoardings, banners and posters are concerned," said the court.

The bench further directed that a copy of its judgement be forwarded to the ECI as well as State Election Commission for considering these issues and taking necessary action. The court made it clear that the entire machinery set up under the interim directions, including the Grievance Redress Mechanism, will continue to function. The bench recorded its appreciation for the court commissioners appointed to check illegal posters, banners and hoardings in Maharashtra.

"We make it clear that though they will not continue as Commissioners, they can continue to render services by taking tours of different areas and filing complaints about the illegal sky-signs and advertisements." The PILs filed by Suswaraj Foundation and Janhit Manch's Bhagwanji Riyani alleged that political workers, NGOs and private organisations put up illegal hoardings, banners and posters in complete violation of civic rules all over the state, defacing private and public properties and spaces.

The HC had, on November 26 last year, asked the municipal bodies across Maharashtra to take up a special drive against illegal hoardings, posters and banners. On September 16, 2016, the court again ordered a month- long drive against illegal hoardings and posters.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said it had removed 12,486 banners in the city recently and lodged 2,855 police complaints. Police had registered FIRs in 138 in this connection. BMC also said it had launched prosecution in 920 cases, and also set up toll-free numbers, where citizens can complain about illegal hoardings. The court also asked the state government to appoint a secretary or secretaries of the rank of IAS officers to monitor and supervise the implementation of the provisions of municipal laws as well as the sections of Prevention of Defacement of Property Act.

The HC asked all the municipal bodies and district collectors to submit to such secretary the action taken reports on a regular basis. The secretary can hold video conference meetings with all of them to ensure effective implementation of the court's directions. The bench also directed the state government to ensure that the recovery of expenditure is made from the wrongdoers after taking action of removal of defacement in terms of section 5 of the Defacement Act.

The HC ordered the ward officers of municipal bodies to ensure that all illegal hoardings and banners are removed immediately and action taken against the offenders. The court also asked the local police stations to extend cooperation to the municipal staff in this endeavour. The HC ruled that similar protection be extended to all the state government officers when they take action of removal of defacement in accordance with the Defacement Act.

Offences under these provisions of the Act are non cognisable and action should be taken against wrongdoers, said the high court. The court ruled that in municipal areas, where there is a Commissioner of Police, he shall nominate one or more senior officers not below the rank of deputy commissioner of police to act as nodal officers to oversee the performance of duties of senior police inspectors in the context of directions issued by the high court against illegal hoardings.

In large cities like Mumbai and Pune, more than one of such officers shall be appointed to look into these issues. In case of those municipal areas, where there is no office of Commissioner of Police, the district superintendent of police, shall appoint a nodal officer not below the rank of Deputy SP for this purpose, ruled the high court.

The high court also ruled that district collectors would be responsible for enforcement of Prevention of Defacement of Property Act within their respective jurisdictions. For areas not included in municipal limits, the collectors shall appoint nodal officers to ensure there is no defacement. The court directed the state government to formulate a policy for civic bodies dealing with grant of permissions to display sky-signs and advertisements.