The Telegraph
Saturday , April 5 , 2014
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Poll post-er(r) space war

The battle for banner space has begun. Parties keen to drum up support for their candidates through posters and billboards have started knocking on the doors of the civic body for the “box seats”.

Officials of the cash-starved corporation are all smiles with the prospect of revenue.

Parties prepare

For parties, big is beautiful.

They have set sights on large billboards and hoardings to make their presence felt on thoroughfares. The BJP and the Congress recently approached Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) to seek permission for putting up posters at the authorised advertisement spaces across the city.

The cash-strapped civic body is expecting windfall from political posters. Its officials have asked the parties to ensure the advertisement agencies concerned cleared their heavy dues before putting their nominees’ posters.

“Representatives of both the BJP and the Congress approached us to seek permission for putting banners in the city for electioneering. Since the advertisement agencies owe heavy sum to us, we have asked the political parties to ensure that our dues were cleared before their advertisements were on display,” said a senior PMC official.

According to sources, there are around 58 outdoor advertisement agencies in the city. They have erected over 4,000 billboards — big and small. “The political parties are approaching us these days for using our hoardings. We, in turn, are asking them to get the clearance from the Election Commission, district administration and the PMC. There are only few days left for the polls and we are keenly waiting for the parties to make payment to us,” said a senior executive of an advertisement agency in the city.

The civic body awards the selling rights of billboards/hoardings to the advertisement agencies through bidding process. The selected agencies are then required to pay annual lease charges to the PMC every year. Sources claimed that dues of the advertisement agencies are over Rs 15 crore. The PMC has not earned a penny from them for over seven years.

Strict vigil

Caution is the key word for parties keen to promote their “poster boys/girls”.

The strict regulation on display of advertisements for electioneering came to the light with the removal of posters of the BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, on the Patna airport premises. The district administration lodged an FIR against the BJP for the violation of the model code of conduct on Thursday, two days after the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Tuesday claimed that the posters were put up without its consent. Following the incident, the central headquarters of AAI in New Delhi has issued a directive banning banners/ hoardings of political parties on the airport premises. The AAI had claimed that according to its contract with The Third Eye Communication Private Limited — the advertising agency — the content of the advertisement material is required to be approved by it. In this case, which was not done.

The PMC does not mandate any prior approval of the content of the hoardings. “There is no specific stipulation regarding the approval on the content but the poster/hoardings should not carry any inflammatory message or anything in violation of the code of conduct,” said a senior official of PMC.

Come, vote

The district administration has put up voter awareness billboards at 51 locations in the city. Cricketers, including Team India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli, can be seen in huge posters along several roads in the city.

“According to the contract with the advertisement agencies, they can be asked to surrender their advertisement space for 15 days in a year for public purpose. Depending on the request from the district administration, we asked the advertisement agencies to put up voter awareness advertisements between April 4 and April 17,” said the PMC official.

Flex point

The strict implementation of the model code of conduct has dampened the flourishing business of flex-makers.

“We did brisk business before the parliamentary elections in 2009. But the situation has changed now drastically. Very few political parties or workers have come to us this time to place order for flexes,” said Taufiq Ahmad, the owner of Art World, a flex-printing shop on SP Verma Road.