Rules are meant to be broken, seems to be the adage the civic body leaders are following. After passing a blanket ban on political posters, it appears that those who made the rules themselves show little regard for them. At Shivaji Park, there’s a poster paying tribute to Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, on his death anniversary.
While the sight of the poster defacing the city might not be too surprising, the smiling faces of Mayor Sunil Prabhu, BMC Standing Committee Chairman Rahul Shewale, and BEST committee chairman Sanjay Ambole, is nothing but ironic as they were the main architects of the ban. And it’s not just that one poster with the Sena leaders’ photos, which is present in the area. Other posters put up by leaders belonging to the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Republican Party of India and Bahujan Samaj Party dot the area.
These billboards and banners continue to come up despite the new policy, which came into effect from September this year. According to the new policy drafted by the BMC, all posters such as birthday wishes for politicians and greetings on religious festivals are banned and those found to put them up will now be directly prosecuted and could be jailed for up to one year. The new guidelines follow the BMC’s recent drive against illegal hoardings after a Bombay High Court stricture of March 13.
‘Stick to your rules’
A senior citizen from Shivaji Park, where the posters continue to show up, said, “No doubt, Dr Ambedkar was a great man. But this is not the way to offer him tribute. If anyone wants to honour him, they should visit Chaitya Bhoomi and pray instead of erecting huge posters. If the BMC has banned political banners they should implement it. Gadkari Chowk is full of them.”
Another resident voiced the same opinion. “Politicians find every way to bend the rule and come up with innovative ways of putting up posters to garner publicity. If as policymakers they break the law, it gives out a wrong a message to the public.”
Even the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena took the opportunity and criticised the mayor and the standing committee chairman. “Will the mayor and the chairman, who sanctioned the policy stick to their own rules? Will they resign if in the future, their image is seen on a poster or banner? They should answer these questions,” said MNS leader and corporator from Dadar Sandeep Deshpande.
When MiD DAY approached Mayor Prabhu, he said he was not aware of his photograph on the poster. “I am totally against any kind of political poster or banner. Some over-enthusiastic person must have put my image to show respect to Dr Ambedkar,” he said, adding, “The civic administration will take a decision about it.”
However, when he was asked if the poster would be removed, all he said was, ‘I don’t know who has put my photo.” The BMC, however, said that action would be taken in due process. “It is true that there are a lot of posters in that area. But the mayor has not put up all of them. We will take cognisance of the issue and take action against those who sponsored them,” said BMC’s Licence Superintendent Sharad Bande.
When this correspondent approached Chandrakant Kamble, the president of the Charmodyog Kamgar Sena, a union affiliated to the Sena, who was responsible for the poster with Prabhu, Shewale and Ambole’s images, he was unapologetic. “They are my party leaders so I put their photograph on the poster. But, we will remove all our posters a day later.” Rahul Shewale was not available to comment on the issue.
Crime and punishment
After the High Court had demanded that the state be purged of all posters in March, BMC officials decided to take action against offenders under Section 328 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, 1888 wherein offenders would have to cough up fines ranging from Rs 1,000 to 5,000, depending on the size of the hoardings. Civic officials said they would also charge culprits under Section 3 of the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1995, in which a lawbreaker can be fined up to Rs 2,000 or face imprisonment for three months, or both.
The new poster policy
As per the new guidelines, there will be a 100 per cent ban on political banners displaying congratulatory or birthday wishes. Interestingly, the only exception is that during a political rally, two banners measuring 10x10 feet will be allowed at the place of the rally. Any other poster elsewhere will be treated as an illegal one.
Additionally, the poster can be displayed only a day before the rally, on the day and a day after the rally. A poster after that stipulated time would be considered illegal. The same rules are applicable for religious functions and festivals. Political parties have been barred from wishing citizens on the occasion of festivals, while religious institutions and social organisations will not be allowed to display any hoardings of their functions, except at the venues.