Athree-member bench of the SC, while hearing a case about billboards on public property in Lahore, ordered the removal of publicity hoardings on public property across the country within the next 45 days. It was brought to the attention of the bench that in some areas, billboards were propped up on footpaths, posing a risk to pedestrians. According to the Punjab Outdoor Advertisement and Signboards Policy, 2013, local governments have the authority to determine the location, size, type and density of billboards and signboards in accordance with the ‘character’ of the land use of an area. The policy was formulated after a survey of 750 of the 1,139 billboards mounted across the city; it was concluded that the billboards hinder the view of the city’s heritage sites, historic monuments, traffic signals and road signs. Apart from disfiguring the city’s landscape, they pose practical and security risks. And yet, now and again, the law continues to be bent or broken to suit vested interests.
In 2016, similar orders were given by the SC in Karachi after over a dozen 20-year-old trees were chopped down to make way for advertisements on one of its main thoroughfares. A few years before that, there were also some fatalities reported by falling billboards. In 2014, it was estimated that there were over 3,000 billboards in Karachi alone. The apex court stated that no law allowed for the mounting of outdoor advertising billboards and signboards on public property and ordered KMC, DHA and cantonment boards to remove them. Billboards and publicity hoardings was held responsible for cluttering the city’s landscape, increasing visual pollution and posing risks to pedestrians and drivers alike. They had been allowed to mushroom because the sale of outdoor advertising is an enormously lucrative business for city government officials, cantonment authorities, and outdoor advertising agencies. That is why the 2016 ban is slowly but surely being flouted once again in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2018