Remove hoardings or face dissolution: HC warns civic bodies across Maharashtra

Pulling up municipal corporations in Maharashtra for not complying with earlier court orders on removing illegal hoardings, posters and banners exhibited by political parties, the Bombay High Court today warned that it would ask the state to dissolve the civic bodies.

"It appears that only municipal corporations of Pune, Mumbai and Akola have substantially complied with the court orders on removal of hoardings, posters and banners of political parties, while the rest of the civic bodies have simply chosen to ignore it," said a division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka while going through the affidavits.

"We are giving one last chance to the municipal corporations to comply with the court orders or else the state would be directed to dissolve them," the bench warned.

The court was hearing a bunch of PILs alleging that political parties were putting up hoardings, posters and banners without taking permission, thereby defacing public and private properties. In August, the bench had ordered an appointment of nodal agencies to check this practice and also asked major political parties, including Congress, Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS to give separate written undertakings assuring that they would not erect hoardings anywhere in the state without permission.

The court had also ordered that all civic bodies should have a toll-free number to enable people to register complaints against illegal hoardings.

"If a citizen finds his complaint on toll free number has not been considered by officers, he or she can approach the nodal officers," the judges said.

The bench had also ordered formation of a committee of citizens at the ward level to keep a check on illegal hoardings and asked the local authorities to organise awareness programmes on the issue.

However, the bench today noted that the citizen's committee had not been formed at many places and that the civic bodies had not facilitated toll free numbers and SMS service to enable people register their complaints.

In its August order, the court had asked Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to appoint senior inspectors (licence department) as nodal officers to check illegal hoardings. In case of other corporations outside Mumbai, such nodal officer would be ward officers in the respective localities, the bench ruled.

The bench had also ordered senior police inspectors in Mumbai and officers in-charge of concerned police stations outside the city to provide protection to the municipal team, which removes such illegal posters and hoardings.

The court ordered police protection because municipal bodies complained that workers of political parties beat up their staff whenever they moved in to remove such hoardings.

The bench further noted that police commissioners in Mumbai and other cities would depute officers at the level of deputy commissioner of police as nodal officers to review the drive against illegal hoardings.

In districts outside Mumbai, the superintendent of police would depute officers at the level of deputy superintendent of police as nodal officers.

These nodal officers would act on complaints filed by municipal corporations or municipal councils. The offenders would be booked under the Prevention of Defacement Act within a month, the court had ruled.

One of the PILs was filed by Su-Swaraj Foundation through advocate Uday Warunjikar. The court had last month slammed municipal
corporations in Maharashtra for not filing compliance reports on its earlier order to remove the illegal hoardings.

On February 21 this year, another bench of the high court had asked the municipal bodies to file compliance reports on the steps taken to remove illegal hoardings, to prosecute the culprits and to recover fine from them.

Advocate Warunjikar had brought to the notice of the court during the last hearing about its order dated March 15, 2013, which had sought removal of illegal hoardings within 48 hours.

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