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Guard against graffiti gang

Graffiti in favour of Trinamulís Sugata Bose (left) and the CPMís Sujan Chakraborty, who are contesting from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat, on the wall of Peerless hospital, off the Bypass. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

As the Lok Sabha polls draw closer, citizens fear political parties will defile their walls by scrawling graffiti in violation of the Election Commission (EC) rules.

Two political parties this week defiled the boundary wall of a private hospital off the Bypass with poll graffiti. A house on BB Chatterjee Road in Kasba and another in Kalikapur have lodged graffiti complaints with the EC, which has started criminal cases against the parties concerned.

While there is a blanket ban on defacement of public properties, the clause for obtaining a written consent from the owner of a private property to paint graffiti leaves room for misuse. A Metro guide on how to safeguard your walls.

Q: Who can allow graffiti on a private property?

A: Only the owner and the consent has to be in writing. Tenants donít have any say in the matter. Anyone, however, can lodge a complaint against a graffiti scrawled without the landlordís consent.

A consent given without intimidation or coercion cannot be taken back.

Q: Is the written consent enough to start the paint job?

A: No. The consent letter has to be submitted to the local police station within three days of it being issued or at least three days before the paint job starts, whichever is earlier.

Q: What to do if owners are forced to give consent?

A: EC and police, which come under the poll panelís control once the election schedule is announced, have promised to protect those who complain of arm-twisting by political parties. The complainantís identity will be kept confidential.

The owner whose property has been defaced illegally should lodge a complaint with the local police station and send a copy to the returning officer of the constituency, who assumes charge within two weeks of the announcement of the poll schedule. One can also mail a complaint to ceowbcomplaints@gmail.com or call the commissionís toll-free number 1950 between 10.30am and 5.30pm.

Q: What is the course of action once a complaint is lodged?

A: The police will inspect the premises and record the ownerís statement. If the authorities are convinced of a violation, they can start a case under the relevant civic or panchayat laws ó such as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (second amendment) Act, 2006 ó or the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The case will be filed against those who did the paint job and not the party or the candidate.

Q: What is the punishment for those found guilty?

A: Jail for up to six months and/or fine up to Rs 50,000.

Q: How can an owner who has given consent ensure that easily removable paint is used for graffiti and the walls restored to their original condition after the elections?

A: There is no way to ensure that. An owner can, at best, try and get a written undertaking from the party before giving his consent. The model code of conduct urges parties to use easily removable paints. There is no rule to ensure this.

Q: What if a party does not restore a wall to its original condition after the polls?

A: ďRestoration should ideally start as soon as the voting is over and should not take more than a few days,Ē said a poll panel official. But again there is no rule to ensure this.