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August 10, 2020

With bylaws yet to be notified, DMC East, other authorities allow billboards on private properties


August 10, 2020

Different land owning agencies in Karachi seem to be taking advantage of a grey area in a Supreme Court order of 2018, which said that billboards or hoardings are allowed on private buildings. That particular order, however, did not say anything about outdoor advertisements protruding out from the outer walls of private properties.

Earlier in 2016, the apex court order had ordered removal of all the billboards from public properties and roads across the city, including the cantonment areas and housing societies. The phenomenon of billboards on private buildings is very much observable in District East and District South. On Friday, two motorcyclists were severely injured near the Metropole Hotel in District South when a billboard attached to a building fell on them due to thunderstorm.

After the incident, two officers of the District Municipal Corporation (DMC) South were suspended for illegally issuing permits for billboards. The SC also took suo motu notice on the incident and a hearing on the issue will be held today (Monday).

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani has also recently ordered removal of all the billboards, signboards and other advertisement materials in the city. The commissioner’s order addressed the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), all the six District Municipal Corporations (DMCs) of the city, deputy commissioners of all the six districts and executive officers of the cantonment boards of Malir, Clifton, Karachi, Manora, Faisal, and Korangi Creek.

However, the two land owning agencies in District East, the DMC East and Cantonment Board Faisal (CBF), seem to have turned a blind eye towards the direction, as huge billboards extending out from private buildings continue to dot the entire district, while a massive operation against billboards and hoardings is under way under the supervision of South Deputy Commissioner Irshad Sodhar.

Saddar Assistant Commissioner Asif Raza said that after the Friday incident, an FIR was registered against the DMC South director advertisement, Wazeer Ali Behleem, who is on the run, while his assistant director has been arrested.

DMC East Chairman Moeed Anwar and East DC Ahmed Ali did not respond to phone calls by The News on the issue, while an advertisement official of the CBF said that he had recently taken charge and could not comment on the issue.

While visiting different areas of District East, scores of heavy outdoor advertisement structures can be seen protruding out from private buildings at Jauhar Chowrangi, Jauhar Mor, University Road, Rashid Minhas Road and other areas.

The elected councillor of MQM of the CBF Ward 7, Kashif Ahmed accepted that the billboards in the jurisdictional areas of the CBF were illegal. He, however, lamented that the elected councillors did not have any say on the matter.

Justifying the presence of large number of billboards on private buildings in District East, DMC East Local Tax Director Jawed Khalwar quoted an excerpt from the 2018 SC judgment which said: “if billboards or hoardings are to be used for the purpose of advertisement then the business should advertise on private buildings.”

The order, he said, did not specify if the structure should not protrude out from the private building. However, he explained that the DMC was removing such structures from private properties which it deemed hazardous for the public.

To this, Amber Alibhai of non-governmental organisation Shehri pointed out that the order cited by Khalwar says that those billboards placed on private plots must not overhang on public spaces. “It also states that the object must not let these hoardings endanger people,” she said.

Civil rights activist Dr Raza Gardezi referred to another SC order of 2016 that quoted an interim report of the stakeholders of the outdoor advertisement industry. The report, which was on by-laws for the city-wide uniformity regarding billboards and hoardings, clearly said that billboards and hoardings on rooftops were not allowed.

Explaining this, Dr Gardezi said no advertisement structure made of iron was allowed on the rooftops or façades of the buildings. NED University Architecture Faculty Dean Dr Noman Ahmed told The News that anything that projected outside the structure of a building was illegal, however, any panaflex advertisement pasted on buildings facing roads that did not protrude out was legal.

Even shop signage, against which the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) carried out a massive operation in 2019 but allowed it later, was illegal by the book, Dr Ahmed said. “Enforcement of law without regulation isn’t possible,” he said, adding that the SC orders were open to interpretation as they gave broad guidelines.

Outdoor Advertising Association President Rahat Muhammad Ali, however, remarked that the incident that took place near the Metropole Hotel had nothing to do with them. He explained to The News that the removal of outdoor advertisement from private properties by the DMCs and cantonment boards was injustice to them as they were following the SC’s direction regarding billboards and hoardings.

He explained that the new outdoor advertisement bylaws that would apply across the city had been drafted by all the stakeholders of the advertisement industry and landowning agencies, after which they were submitted to the SC. All the hoardings and outdoor advertisements in the city were in the light of those bylaws, he maintained, adding that the Sindh local government department was supposed to notify those bylaws.

He, however, also agreed that any advertisement structure protruding out from buildings was illegal. Meanwhile, Local Government Secretary Roshan Ali Sheikh told The News that they had submitted the bylaws to the SC in February this year after the law department had vetted those. He added that once the apex court approved it, the cabinet would notify them.