Karachi’s billboard menace


WEB DESK: Various attempts to rid Karachi of billboards installed disregarding public safety having gone in vain, a Supreme Court bench offered hope of betterment at Thursday’s hearing of the case.

The court ordered all concerned authorities to remove, within 15 days, the billboards installed on any portion of public place or property in the megacity that do not conform to prescribed guidelines. And that in the intervening period no new permission would be granted by various licensing authorities. Part of the problem, in fact, is the existence of multiple jurisdictions in the field.

Aside from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation there are several other licensing authorities, including the Cantonment Board, Civil Aviation Authority, Pakistan Coast Guards, Pakistan Navy, Pakistan Air Force, Karsaz, and Pakistan Railways. They have been freely giving permission to advertisement agencies to put up billboards with an eye on revenues and without a care for public safety or the environment. In several instances, even trees have been chopped off because the advertisers found them obstructive to their purposes.

This is a sad comment on the administration’s interest in safeguarding public interest. As the court aptly observed, the citizens’ civil rights are being violated since erecting billboards and hoardings in places meant for the use and benefit of public at large “would endanger the life and property of the common man.” The concern is about a real rather than likely danger. It may be recalled that during a storm and torrential rains that hit Karachi back in 2007, as many as 104 hoardings came down killing nine people on the spot. Yet greed continued to win over considerations of public wellbeing, and different licensing agencies kept permitting installation of advertisement boards at all sorts of places, even on footpaths.

Finally, last year the Supreme Court intervened directing all related officials in the federal, provincial and local land control authorities to come back with complete reports regarding issuance of licences. The latest report presented before the court shows little has changed, barring a few exceptions both legal and illegal hoardings are still there. The city administration, sill under provincial government’s control, has to answer for spoiling the city’s environmental aesthetics and endangering the lives of its denizens.

It defies logic that there should be so many licensing authorities in the same metropolitan area. It is about time billboard bylaws are amended to provide safety to the public. Equally important, they must uniformly apply to all areas in the city. Needless to say, public interest must get priority over every other consideration.

Source: Business Recorder