In this state, democracy equals powerless citizen Bill to crush graffiti curbs

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By SIMI KAMBOJ in Calcutta
  • Published 16.11.06

Calcutta, Nov. 16: Political parties will shortly have the freedom to deface your wall. And you will not have the right to protest.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is set to scrap the existing anti-defacement act and replace it with a toothless legislation that will legalise political graffiti.

In the West Bengal Municipal Bill, 2006, to be tabled in the Assembly’s winter session, there are no penal provisions for graffiti (termed “non-commercial advertisement”).

If your wall is defaced against your will, you cannot seek justice. All the power you have is the right to complain to the local municipal authority. And all that the civic body can do is “erase/remove/dismantle the writings and posters”.

As municipalities are run with the taxes you pay, it’ll be your money they will spend to clean up your wall, if at all.

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya has already said he would oppose putting the responsibility on the municipal corporation.

“The CMC is already burdened with so many jobs. It is not possible for us to clean up the city’s walls when people start complaining,” he said.

Democracy is being given a new meaning by a government run by parties of the Left who claim to be the sole protectors of “people’s rights”.

The bill explains “non-commercial advertisement” as “advertisement related to the campaign of any political party or an independent candidate to an election, or any campaign of any mass organisation”.

Mass organisations include associations formed by registered trade unions, teachers, organised workers, youths, women, peasants, students, pensioners and traders.

That takes care of almost every organised body, except private citizens who are not organised.

These advertisements will not be allowed on government buildings. Graffiti writers — that is, political parties — are expected to take your permission before defiling your premises. It is probably news to the government that citizens are too scared to say “no”.

With the new bill passed into law — that should be a foregone conclusion because no party will oppose it — you will be even more afraid of the local party dada because you can’t even complain to the police.

You will lose the right to appeal to the police — not that they’re expected to act against party dadas, especially from the ruling side — once the existing West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act is abolished.

Under this act, wall writing is a cognisable offence. An aggrieved individual can now complain to the police and an offender can be punished with a fine of Rs 1,000 or six months’ imprisonment, or both.

Pressure for repealing this act mounted during the last Assembly polls, when the Election Commission took resort to it to ban graffiti. The chief minister had then promised, reported in The Telegraph of May 30, to move a legislation overturning the act passed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s Congress government.

Bhattacharjee had sworn to repeal the “Draconian law dating back to the Emergency period” to uphold “the democratic right of political parties to write on walls”.

He has kept his word.

He has also saved your windows and doors and ACs and balconies, which cannot be blocked by posters or banners.

Commercial advertisements will continue to be under official control.