|A banner being pulled down in Mumbai. (Fotocorp)
Mumbai, March 18: A court lash has sent Mumbai galloping to rid itself of eyesores not unfamiliar to Calcutta.
The western metropolis removed over 5,000 banners, most of them political, within a 24-hour deadline set by the high court, clocking a 200-an-hour tally that raises the bar for Calcutta whose skyline is just as pockmarked.
“We pressed into force all our staff after the order. They worked in two shifts between 9am and 2pm and 3pm and 11pm and got all illegal banners off the city roads,” said an official of Mumbai civic body BMC.
The job was wrapped up in 24 hours and a BMC compliance report was filed before the court on Friday, within 36 hours of the order, saying 5,315 banners, boards and posters had been taken off. Over 4,000 of these, or 75 per cent, were political while the remaining were commercial, religious and social.
Municipal corporations in neighbouring Navi Mumbai and Thane, also covered by Wednesday’s Bombay High Court order, set a pace as dizzy, ripping off banners in their areas well within the deadline. The directive had mentioned the possibility of action against civic body chiefs for lack of compliance.
The war-like action — nearly 60 vehicles with BMC teams of seven armed with pickaxes and giant tongs prowled the streets — eventually won a pat from the court but came after years of empty promises by leaders.
Raj Thackeray had urged activists of his party, the MNS, not to put up banners in 2011. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had asked the BMC authorities to remove posters congratulating him when he took office over three years ago.
Many had hoped the trend would endure but that didn’t happen. Illegal posters of all hues, announcing the arrival of everything from festivals to political leaders’ programmes, sprouted.
The frustration finds echoes in Calcutta. In 2011, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had asked advertisers to remove all hoardings from the heritage zone in the heart of the city by July 11. On July 13, 2011, civic teams hit the street to pull down the billboards that still remained in the zone from Writers’ Buildings to Maidan Metro station and from the Eden Gardens to Tipu Sultan mosque.
But a month after the diktat, several billboards were found occupying pride of place at the crossing of Lindsay Street and JL Nehru Road. “The guideline is that all billboards facing JL Nehru Road will be removed. If a building has two billboards, one facing JL Nehru Road and the other facing Park Street, we will remove only the former,” an official had then said.
In Mumbai, a BMC official acknowledged problems in removing political banners. “We have been making efforts to remove these banners and prevent them from being put up but they are usually pasted at night.”
The official said prosecuting parties was difficult as leaders featured on the posters often washed their hands of the problem. “We cannot prosecute the national leaders featured on the posters. Local leaders, too, do not own up. One banner put up recently mentioned the chief minister’s diktat that no posters should be put up.”
The court underscored the need to sustain the drive when it took stock of the action on Friday. “Responsibility does not lie with corporations alone but also on police and leaders. The municipal commissioners should consider calling a meeting of all leaders and counsel them,” the court said, seeking another compliance report on April 25.
But residents have misgivings. “The court order came as a relief. But we are not very confident of the BMC sustaining the effort. Political parties will find a way to put up the posters again,” said Anandini Thakur, chairperson of a citizen group in a western suburb. Thakur’s group and some others had put up an illegal banner in September 2011 to protest against illegal posters wishing leaders happy birthday and conveying festive greetings.