|Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay and deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto steal the spotlight at Kutchery Chowk and Albert Ekka Chowk in Ranchi on Friday. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
The goddess and her family may have left, but smiling political deities wishing you and your family festive greetings aren’t budging from hoardings across the capital.
Biggies such as chief minister Arjun Munda, local Congress MP and Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay, Ajsu chief Sudesh Kumar Mahto, JVM boss Babulal Marandi, or lesser avatars like district and city level politicians, are hogging the hoardings that Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) or private individuals had outsourced to outdoor advertisers.
So, instead of the product or service that the hoarding was supposed to display, the politician gets free publicity.
It works like this. Outdoor advertising firms — different from creative agencies that conceptualise and shoot ads — book hoardings in select areas for the best possible display of their clients’ products. Simply put, they search for places that attract maximum eyeballs.
For that, they pay a fixed rental to the civic body as well as the private landlord for the entire tenure.
But in a political culture that considers the state or constituency or even mohalla the personal fiefdom of netas, if a well-known name or even his sycophant wants mileage, the hoarding is captured in a jiffy.
A flex screen of the smiling politician, alone or with his chosen men, is stuck over the product display. This happens mostly during festive season when people’s representatives need to wish their vote banks all kinds of divine joys to cover up their mortal failings.
“Most hoardings rented out to different firms for a particular period on fixed rentals have been captured by politicians. Suddenly, billboards displaying ads of a particular product get political makeover with pictures of leaders wishing the masses. This is ridiculous. No one cares to ask us or RMC or the district administration. We have to stay in business so we keep mum,” said an industry veteran.
Firms such as Cell Well, Omed, Pratibha, Primesite, Strokes and others are all in the same boat. They know that the peak outdoor advertising time — Puja, Bakrid, Diwali, Chhath and Christmas — is also the one when they pay the price to publicise politicians, not products.
The RMC has around 200 hoardings under its jurisdiction. The civic body takes Rs 120 to Rs 150 per sqft per annum from outdoor advertisers. The capital also has hundreds of private hoardings leased out to advertisers by individuals at hefty rates. Here too, RMC cashes in. Advertisers pay the civic body Rs 15 per sqft per annum over and above paying landlords. Advertisers also cough up commercial tax.
In contrast, politicians and their men cough up nothing. Not even an apology.
Jharkhand Outdoor Advertising Association president Rajib Chatterjee told The Telegraph that politicians hogging hoardings were a problem. “When our client sees his product is hidden by the politician’s picture, he at times refuses to pay us. Or he asks us to remove the politician’s picture. But we don’t dare do that,” he said.
Outdoor advertisers also know that RMC or district administration officials won’t back them.
RMC marketing in-charge S.K. Thakur admitted they received informal complaints that politicians captured hoarding spaces during festivals, rallies and visits of big leaders.
Ranchi deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey sounded unconcerned. “We haven’t received any complaint that politicians have forcibly taken advertisement space. We will take action if someone approaches us with a specific grievance,” he said.