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Queen country clean-up
- Tell me, is graffiti banned in London, asks the chief minister. Yes, it is

As Writers' Buildings readies to bring back the writing on the Calcutta wall after the Election Commission (EC) whitewash, all local authorities across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom are taking an increasingly tough stand to stamp out the menace of illegal fly-posting and graffiti.

Fly-posting, even during general elections, will not be allowed to disfigure England's green and pleasant land, rising Tory politician Shailesh Vara told The Telegraph.

Vara was referring to the illegal posters, stickers and advertisement boards dotting places both public and private.

Penalties have been increased by Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs), the government ministry concerned, and all local authorities are taking steps to ensure offenders are subjected to heavy fines.

Vara, MP for the largely rural constituency of North West Cambridgeshire and a member of the Defra select committee in the Commons, said: 'Fly-posting is not allowed. The local authority will ask you to take it down.'

The political parties can erect large billboards, often 12 ft by 12 ft, in public but these have to be paid for nationally. Posters put up on private property, Vara explained, required the consent of its owner.

During general elections, householders often agree to put up posters supporting individual candidates in their front drawing room windows. Indian shopkeepers accept posters from all candidates and either display all of them, or none.

However, illegal fly-posting is a fact of life in London. A typical warning comes, for example, from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames where the problems of fly-posting and graffiti are not as acute as those in Central London boroughs such as Camden or Westminster.

'As a part of our aim to make our borough safe, green and clean, we are committed to removing fly-posters from our streets,' says the borough. 'We will remove all unauthorised fly-posters from property and land for which we are responsible within five working days of notification. We will prosecute offenders.'

The borough's spokesman, Christian Marcucci, said: 'We pursue offenders very aggressively. If we catch anyone putting up a poster illegally, we can impose an on-the-spot ' 75 fixed penalty.'

Penalties for illegal fly-posting could go up to ' 1,000, plus ' 100 a day from the day a poster was ordered to be removed.

By The West Bengal Prevention of Property Defacement Act, 1976, a graffiti offender is 'punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs 1,000 or both'.

The Greater London Assembly, which even has a graffiti committee, estimated four years ago that the annual cost of cleaning walls in the capital was ' 100 million a year.

Unlike the relatively clean Metro in Calcutta, underground trains in London are the target of 'graffiti artists'.

Andrew Pelling, then chairman of the graffiti committee, commented: 'We have tolerated graffiti as inevitable for far too long but we do not have to live with it or accept it.'

A man caught fly-posting in Cheltenham has just been fined ' 150 and ordered to pay ' 150 costs under the new Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act.

Matthew Stevens, of Gloucester, pleaded guilty to two offences under section 222 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990.

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