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May 17, 2021

No apparent effort made to remove billboards despite cyclone threat

May 17, 2021

File photo

Huge billboards sticking out from private buildings continue to dot Karachi’s skyline and pose serious threats to passers-by. And shop signage exceeding their mandated dimensions are ubiquitous as well. But the city administration has miserably failed to remove such hazardous billboards and shop signage despite the Supreme Court’s repeated directions.

Days after the Pakistan Meteorological Department issued warnings in view of the cyclone Tauktae, the city high-ups only managed a few visits and directions to remove these gigantic structures in order to safeguard the public. However, like always, these instructions are expected to fall on deaf ears.

During last year’s monsoon season in August, two motorcyclists had been severely injured near the Metropole Hotel in District South after a billboard affixed to a building fell on top of them due to a thunderstorm.

After the incident, two officers of the South District Municipal Corporation (DMC) had been suspended for illegally issuing billboard permits. The SC also took suo motu notice on the incident and ordered removing all such advertisements and shop signboards that pose a threat.

After the incident and the SC’s orders, the then Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani directed the city administration to take immediate action against every billboard and shop sign protruding from the facade of the building they were affixed to.

Nine months later, when the threat of a cyclone looms large, this correspondent on Sunday visited different streets of the city and found such hazardous structures everywhere. Shahrah-e-Pakistan and Sher Shah Suri Road in District Central have scores of such gigantic billboards and shop signage protruding from private properties.

The SC’s orders are being blatantly violated in District East, which falls under the jurisdictions of the East DMC and the Cantonment Board Faisal. University Road, Stadium Road, Bahadurabad, Tariq Road, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Sharea Faisal have numerous huge billboards protruding from multi-storey buildings.

In District South, which falls under the jurisdictions of the South DMC, the Cantonment Board Clifton and the Cantonment Board Karachi, several such billboards and shop signage can be observed on Sharea Faisal and in the Saddar, DHA and other areas. The Malir, Korangi, West and Keamari districts are no exception.

In December 2018, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) had cracked down on signboards, shop signage and neon signs on shops, restaurants and other structures throughout the city. Later, however, all of these were restored.

The KMC’s Anti-Encroachment Senior Director Bashir Siddiqui told The News that whenever they try to remove such shop signage, shop owners produce challans issued by the DMCs. He claimed that the DMCs have been illegally issuing shop owners with challans, and in some cases, the shopkeepers have been greasing the palms of DMC officials and not even submitting a challan.

Back in 2016, the country’s top court had already ordered the removal of all the billboards from public properties and roads across the city, including the cantonment areas and housing societies.

Civil rights activist Dr Raza Gardezi had earlier shared that one of the SC orders of 2016 quoted an interim report of the stakeholders of the outdoor advertising industry.

The report, which was on the by-laws for citywide uniformity regarding billboards and hoardings, clearly said that billboards and hoardings on rooftops were not allowed. Explaining this, Dr Gardezi said that no advertisement structure made of iron was allowed on the rooftops or facades of buildings.

Karachi Commissioner Navid Ahmed Shaikh, District East Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ali Shah and District Central DC Muhammad Ali Dharejo did not respond to repeated phone calls and messages asking for a comment on the issue.

However, District South DC Irshad Ali Sodhar claimed that billboards have been removed from public properties, while action against such hazardous structures on private properties is under way.

“Our teams are inspecting billboards. Regardless of whether they’re on public or private property, if they’re found to be hazardous, they’ll be removed,” he said, adding that most of such billboards have already been removed.

When the East DMC’s Advertisement Director Raja Buzdar was approached for a comment, he shared a few old videos of Panaflex signs, instead of iron structures, being removed from the facades of different buildings.