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Spoiled: vantage view

- Order to pull down hoardings seen from Nabanna

Calcutta, Oct. 9: Fifteen-odd billboards atop houses surrounding Nabanna and several display boards tied to lampposts on Vidyasagar Setu will be removed as soon as possible as they restrict Mamata Banerjee’s view of the bridge, sources said.

The chief minister today summoned top government officials after reaching Nabanna, the makeshift secretariat in Howrah’s Mandirtala, at 12.10pm and asked them to immediately pull down the billboards and display boards.

“The chief minister instructed the PWD secretary to take steps to rid the area of visual pollution,” an official said.

Mamata’s order, likely to be implemented in two-three days, is significant for a city where the skyline is fast disappearing because of giant unplanned billboards.

After coming to power in May 2011, the chief minister had instructed the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to remove billboards from the central business district, a heritage zone. Although the civic body launched a clean-skyline drive, it had to be stopped midway as some advertisers moved court seeking a stay. The final verdict is awaited, CMC sources said.

Officials said the possibility of another legal challenge was discussed at a meeting PWD officials held after Mamata’s instructions.

Senior officials of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) and the Howrah Municipal Corporation were asked by their PWD counterparts about the status of the billboards and display boards on and near Vidyasagar Setu.

The billboards and display boards canvass products of an apparel brand and infrastructure, retail, footwear, cement and cosmetics companies. A hoarding of upcoming film Mishawr Rahasya has also been put up.

“Some of the billboards and display boards are unauthorised and they can be easily removed. But a majority of them, we were told, had permission from either the HRBC or the Howrah Municipal Corporation. So removing them would be easier said than done,” an official said.

The chief minister was apparently informed about the problem, following which she asked officials to find a solution. Soon after Mamata’s instructions, the PWD sent letters to the HRBC and the Howrah Municipal Corporation, requesting them to find ways to pull down the billboards and display boards.

Sadhan Banerjee, the HRBC vice-president, said the commissioners would take steps to remove the display boards after getting a formal communication from the government. “Once we get it, we will try to find out a way to pull down the boards,” he said.

An official of the Left-run Howrah Municipal Corporation said clearance had been given for most of the billboards. “A few have been put up without permission. Such hoardings can be pulled down even without serving a notice on the house owners on whose terrace they have been put up,” he said.

The official said it would be difficult to remove billboards set up with permission before their tenures end. The permission tenures range between one and three years. “If hoardings are pulled down despite having permission, the advertisers can move court,” he said.

Some outdoor advertising agencies have argued that commercial billboards are not the sole source of visual pollution in a city where all political parties indiscriminately put up flags, posters, festoons and banners. The parties also flout court orders by not seeking permission before using the walls of private properties for graffiti.

“If billboards and display boards are removed because of visual pollution, the government should also remove all political posters and festoons,” said a senior manager of an advertising agency.