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Graffiti bill with escape hatch for offenders
- Ignorance of offence enough excuse

Calcutta, Nov. 22: To Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government, political wall writing is “public interest advertisement”, which can deface private walls with the owners’ permission.

A bill on graffiti in panchayat areas, placed in the Assembly today, recommended jail or fine for those who write on a wall without its owner’s permission or do not clean it after the deadline elapses, but also provided enough escape hatches for the offenders.

The Assembly passed the West Bengal Panchayat (Third Amendment) Bill, 2006. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2006, and the West Bengal Municipal (Second Amendment) Bill, 2006 — to be discussed later this week — would incorporate similar provisions.

Leaders of political parties and mass organisations and officials of private companies would go scot free if they are able to prove “that the offence was committed without their knowledge” and they had tried “to prevent the commission of the offence”.

Panchayat and rural development minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said: “We want to tread a middle path. The right to write on a wall will prevail but... permission will have to be taken from owners and the graffiti erased after a specific period.’’

Opposition members such as the Congress’s Nepal Mahato felt that the provision for the owners’ permission was an “eyewash” as they would be compelled to give the nod in the face of political pressure.

The bill prohibits “advertisements on land, building, hoarding, frame, post, tree, kiosk or structure” without permission in writing from the owner. The advertisers would have to furnish the permission before the local bodies, who will charge fees.

But “any political party and mass organisation” will not have to pay the fee as their advertisements are in “public interest” like, say, an AIDS awareness or literacy campaign.

Violation of the law will result in jail for up to six months or a fine of Rs 50,000. A wall owner may get a share of the fine if the court so directs. The rest will go to the civic body.

The bills for municipal and corporation areas are also tough on commercial advertisement but not on “campaigns of any political party, or an Independent candidate for an election or any campaign of mass organisation”.

Unlike companies, political parties and NGOs will not have to pay taxes on their advertisements or a security deposit to the local body. The deposit would be forfeited if the advertisement is not “erased, removed or taken down” within the stipulated time.

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