Thursday May 26, 2022

As strong winds sweep Karachi, city administration remembers removing billboards

In May 2021 as well, after a cyclone warning, then city commissioner had also issued directives for the removal of all hazardous billboards

January 23, 2022
A view of damaged billboard due to heavy dust storm that hit Karachi on January 21. -ONLINE
A view of damaged billboard due to heavy dust storm that hit Karachi on January 21. -ONLINE

Whenever a gale sweeps the city or a cyclone warning is issued, they are followed by the routine orders and notifications issued by different departments but only on paper as no concrete action is ever witnessed.

If any tragic incident unfortunately takes place due to falling of huge billboards, it starts the cycle in which the judiciary takes action, and the city administration suspends a few officials and removes some billboards, which are likely to reappear after a short span to become again a menace in the next blustery weather.

The same cycle restarted on Friday as when gusty winds started blowing in the city and caused at least five deaths, the Commissioner Office sprang into action, ordering removal of billboards and hoardings throughout the city.

The Commissioner Office issued a notification that was addressed to all the deputy commissioners, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), executive officers of all the cantonment boards and municipal commissioners of all the seven District Municipal Corporations (DMCs). The prevailing strong wind condition in Karachi division, according to the letter, may cause loss of precious human lives and damage to properties due to billboards, signboards and other advertisement material falling on roads and streets.

“It is requested to please take appropriate and immediate action to remove all billboards, signboards and other advertisement material from the streets especially on the main roads of Karachi division and furnish daily report to this office for perusal of commissioner Karachi division,” the letter reads.

Nothing has changed

A similar order was issued by the Commissioner Office in October last year when a cyclone warning was issued by the Met Office. All the deputy commissioners of the city were directed to immediately undertake through qualified engineers a comprehensive survey within their respective jurisdictions of all the billboards and hoardings installed alongside main roads, on the faces of high-rise buildings and on the roofs of high-rises or elsewhere. No concrete action, however, was witnessed after that.

In May 2021 as well, after a cyclone warning, then city commissioner had also issued directives for the removal of all hazardous billboards and shop signage, but they fell on deaf ears.

Huge billboards protruding out from private buildings continue to dot Karachi’s skyline and pose serious threats to passers-by. Meanwhile, humongous shop signage exceeding their mandated dimensions are ubiquitous as well. The city administration has so far miserably failed to remove such hazardous billboards and shop signage despite the Supreme Court’s (SC) repeated directions.

A new gigantic iron structure has recently been installed at Jauhar Morr, which comes under the administrative control of the Cantonment Board Faisal (CBF).

In August 2020, 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 during a thunderstorm. After the incident, two officers of the DMC South were suspended for illegally issuing billboard permits.

The SC took suo motu notice of the incident and ordered the removal of all such advertisements and shop signboards that posed a threat to human lives.

Toothless committees

After such incidents, committees were formed in all the DMCs to ensure that laws and rules regarding the installation of billboards and hoardings on private properties were strictly implemented.

The committee members included executive engineers of the respective DMCs, sub-engineers, advertisement directors — whose particular job, according to a notification whose copy is available with The News, was to check and ensure compliance with court orders and issue challans and approvals if all the formalities were according to the law — and office assistants of the advertisement departments.

Such committees also did not result in any concrete action against the billboards.

2018 operation

In December 2018, the KMC launched a crackdown on signboards, shop signage and neon signs on shops, restaurants and other structures throughout the city. Later, however, all of these were restored. According to the KMC Anti-Encroachment Senior Director Bashir Siddiqui, whenever they tried to remove such shop signage, shop owners produced challans issued by the DMCs.

He claimed that the DMCs had been illegally issuing shop owners with challans, and in some cases, the shopkeepers had been greasing the palms of DMC officials and not even submitting challans.

Currently, Shahrah-e-Pakistan and Sher Shah Suri Road in District Central have scores of gigantic billboards and shop signage protruding from private properties. The top court’s orders are also being blatantly violated in District East, which falls under the jurisdictions of the East DMC and CBF.

University Road, Stadium Road, Bahadurabad, Tariq Road, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Sharea Faisal are also riddled with numerous huge billboards that are protruding from multi-storey buildings.

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

Instead of taking action against the hazardous billboards, the DMC East administration has directed the advertisers to remove all the hazardous billboards and advertising structures from different parts of the city. According to a statement issued by the DMC East, its administrator and municipal commissioner told the advertisers that they were not allowed wall pasting or installing any advertising structure.

Meanwhile, DMC South Administrator Dr Afshan Rabab directed her advertising department on Friday to remain alert regarding removal of billboards and shop signage, which were illegal and hazardous for public life.