The first thing that comes to the mind of an Indian who travels to first world countries like the USA, UK or any other nation in Europe is the uncluttered nature of the cities. Everything will seem well spaced out and pleasing to the eye. A minimal amount of introspection will reveal the fact that this sense of space that is seen in cities is due to the lack of billboards and signage. Every city in India suffers from a billboard epidemic. It is a disease as far as urban planning is concerned. Every corner and every stretch in every city is filled with billboards and sign boards that shout and scream out to buy a product, to go to an event or to watch a movie. It is a sort of visual pollution and is destroying the beauty of Indian cities today.
One reason why so many billboards are plaguing the Indian cities is that a majority of them have not been legally approved. They have been illegally put up with scant disregard for the aesthetics of the surroundings. Even the ones that have been legally approved by the authorities the approval is given without any urban skyline assessment. In fact many of the authorities are not even aware of the location of the media. It is possible to pay the fee and get a billboard approved by the corporations. In India there is also a huge problem of political parties trying to outdo one another by placing bigger hoardings for their political candidates. This paints a very poor image of our country to visitors from abroad as well.
There is a lot of discontent that is brewing from many sections of the society against unauthorised billboards. There is a movement in many cities to get rid of billboards that spoil the image of cities. In Mumbai, there is an idea by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to ban hoardings that are legal or illegal. It wants areas to be designated as ‘no hoarding zones’. This will ensure that the city regains its lost glory to some extent. There are some old buildings that are part of the heritage of the city that have been blocked from view by the distasteful hoardings. In addition to this there are some hoardings that are placed so dangerously that they block traffic or the driver’s vision of incoming traffic. These need to be removed for safety reasons.
This movement has also moved to Pune where hoardings are prevented from destroying the beauty of the city. In Uttar Pradesh, the urban development body has banned hoardings on highways and roof tops because there are many hoardings that are put up with least regard for safety and can collapse any minute. In Tamil Nadu, the government is planning to get rid of illegal hoardings in six of its major cities, namely, the capital Chennai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem, Madurai and Thirunelveli. Any hoardings that are put up to let people know about an event will be allowed only for three days before the function and will have to be removed three days after the function has occurred. If they are still up, the government will pull them down.
In Delhi, every hoarding that compromises road safety will be removed. In every major city like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata etc there are drives to remove illegal hoardings. Every city has such hoardings that are installed illegally and with absolute disregard for the surrounding community. These not only ruin the skyline of cities but also snatch away the beauty of the cities. They obstruct traffic and make the city look like some sort of a chaotic confusion. Some of the electric connections that are taken for these hoardings could put the surrounding population in danger. There are many dangerous curves and corners that have hoardings which could obstruct the vision of the drivers and might even lead to accidents.
Understandably the outdoor advertising lobby has opposed the move by these city corporations to come down on hoardings. The argument that they put forth is that the hoardings are beneficial to those who are uneducated and illiterate. The hoarding and billboard is the only way that they can use to communicate with these factions. They feel that OOH media should be regulated and not done away with altogether. It is felt that this argument does not hold much water as most of the advertisements have messages that cannot be understood by the illiterate segment of the populations. The references in the messages are clearly intended for those who are well educated.
This is not an issue that is specific to India. There are many countries that have had to regulate OOH advertising and that is the only reason why their cities are clean and retain their charm. Athens had to demolish several hundred roof top billboards as a drive to beautify the city for the Olympics. Sao Paolo in Brazil has put up a billboard ban. In Japan there is a drive to preserve the skyline and therefore ban all roof top advertising. So the issue is there in many countries and there are ways to deal with the issue. The government must take steps to curb the unauthorised growth of the billboards and also ensure that the advertising clutter that is seen in the cities is decreased as much as possible.
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