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August 12, 2020

Billboard peril

Editorial

 
August 12, 2020

The potential danger presented by giant billboards installed in all our major cities, and especially in Karachi, along major roads and highways has come up before. Orders to remove these structures because of the manner in which they block a view of the road for drivers and the danger they present in the event of a major storm or heavy wind has been brought up before. Despite this, little action has been taken to remove the billboards or reduce their number. This has been noted by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad while hearing a case at the SC’s Karachi Registry. A complainant had lodged an FIR regarding billboards placed along Karachi’s roads despite prior orders from the Supreme Court. On August 7, two motorcyclists had been injured when a billboard toppled down on them during rainfall at Metropole Chowrangi.

The CJ has taken firm notice of this and demanded to know what is being done to deal with the problem and why the culprits responsible for installing the billboards seen all across Karachi have not been produced before the court. The police of course have a difficult task in this respect given that municipalities generally hire advertising companies to install billboards, drawing a charge for this and allocating spaces where these billboards can go up. This obviously helps fund resource-starved municipalities. There is however no doubt that the billboards are unaesthetic, spoil the look of the city and most importantly present a hazard to citizens. Even before August 7, we have had cases of billboards collapsing. As the CJ pointed out, the installation of billboards on buildings and outside windows blocks the airflow to people who live in apartments and makes it harder for them to cope with conditions especially in hot weather. Courts have brought up the matter in the past as well but failed to reach a solution.

A solution may not be easy to find. There are now so many billboard advertising sites across cities that removing all of them may prove impossible. However, standards need to be set, both for the sake of people's safety and to ensure cities retain the look for which they are best known. Karachi and Lahore with their distinctive colonial-era buildings were seen as the best cities to live in once upon a time. But years of neglect have destroyed them and the safety of people who regularly commute through their streets or live in buildings in various places with many of the billboards placed atop unstable foundations which can be toppled over by natural disaster or simply as the result of an accident of some kind. This is not acceptable around the world. It should not be acceptable in our cities either. We hope city governments around the country make sure they plan cities safely without the threat of hoardings and billboards toppling over and injuring people.