Set aside hoarding economics for safety
The hoarding incident in Pune must serve as an eye-opener to the authorities; they must check the structures for stability
Who is responsible for the death of the four innocent people who were crushed under the hoarding that was being removed carelessly in Pune last week? Can anyone guarantee that such an incident will not happen again, if not during the removal of dilapidated billboards, when the hoardings that have not been not audited for structural stability for years, collapse? Considering how irresponsibly we function in the government and agencies, direct answers may not be forthcoming. The answers and actions will come only when we pressure the authorities.
Pune's incident is an eye-opener for the government bodies that permit hoardings and a lesson for other agencies like the railways that are accused of operating such revenue earners, putting human lives at great risk. And, as it happens in our system, a blame-game has ended in a tragedy that has ruined families. The railways have admitted that it hadn't taken permission from the local civic body. But, does that exonerate the civic corporation? Is it not responsible for checking heavy and oversized hoardings?
Two railway employees from Pune have been arrested and they face charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, that provides for life imprisonment or at least 10 years in jail. The government should ensure that others equally responsible are tried in a fast-track court, so that the message that such incidents should not happen again is driven home hard. There should also be a statewide drive for auditing the structural stability of legal hoardings and the immediate removal of illegal ones.
Concern for BMC as well
Illegal billboards are a menace that activists are fighting tooth and nail. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation faces most of the heat, because of the billboard economics of the metro that sees a massive marketing of products, services and politicians. As per official information, the BMC has authorised 1,130 hoardings in exchange for licence fees. But, what is worrying is the unabated mushrooming of illegal hoardings. This year alone, the BMC has acted against 7,110 illegal hoardings, filed 544 criminal cases, and 655 cases against them are pending in city courts.
The BMC authorities seem to have taken the Pune incident seriously and have asked for a structural audit of hoardings. As per BMC rules, the size of hoardings approved for the city is 20 ft x 10 ft and for the suburban areas it is much larger, 40ft x 40 ft. Violations could only be found if BMC officials wished to make a sustained effort.
The rot and the rust
Here we need to address not only the rust in the iron foundations of the hoardings but also the rot in the departments concerned, and their private partners in crime. In Mumbai, private and government land owners, the buildings (commercial and housing) see hoarding installation as a business opportunity, but they hardly maintain the structures for stability.
One sees the steel fabrications (hoardings) atop buildings braving high sea winds, temperatures and intense humidity. We also see heavy billboards along Marine Drive and highways. Most dangerous are those on railway land, close to the tracks. Have they ever been inspected for stability? What if the wear and tear causes them to collapse, endangering moving trains?
Exploring the financial potential of the upcoming eastern sea front, several billboards have been installed along the elevated freeway. We would like to know whether the authorities concerned have picked the right spots for them. These billboards are dangerously close to the roads and could damage life and property in eventualities. Some of them are hazardous because their imposing presence and glow (in the night) distracts motorists on the sharp turns of the delicately built freeway. We wonder who gets such ideas and why they get approved by the authorities that work for public safety. The fight for hoardings is not just restricted to proving their legality. A concern-raising Pune accident has made it a wider public issue that cannot be ignored.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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