BBMP powerless to rid the city of hoardings, policy in limbo

Bangalore BBMP

Hoardings—both legal and illegal—still dot the city skyline, while the new advertising bylaws are yet to come into effect.

Bengaluru: The pandemic may be subsiding, but the real disease plaguing the city—hoardings and distracting advertisements—may not go away anytime soon. 

“They are not even different ads, just the same ones over and over again,” said Sangeetha D R, who commutes to the city from Doddaballapur thrice a week. “From NES at Yelahanka to Palace Road, you are bombarded with ads.”

  • Political advertisements wishing CM Yediyurappa on his birthday along with commerical advertisements.

Hebbal flyover especially is littered with political and corporate advertisements targeting commuters. During the Aeroshow 2021, advertisements by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) congratulating Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dotted lampposts and hoardings across North Bengaluru. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was criticized on social media for allowing those advertisements.

Hoardings congratulating Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during Aeroshow 2021

However, according to BBMP’s Advertising Department, the BBMP and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) were granted permission by the High Court of Karnataka to put up temporary hoardings to provide “public information”, as was the case in 2019.

In 2018, the council members of the BBMP unanimously voted to ban all advertisement against the public right of way, and to bring out a new draft of bylaws that help govern advertising in public spaces called the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Outdoor Signage & Public Messaging Bylaws, 2018 replacing the existing bylaws from 2006. Although the previous council voted to pass the bylaws, the Karnataka government withheld its approval of the bylaws putting the BBMP’s policy on advertising in limbo.

The Karnataka High Court had previously intervened in the matter several times and asked BBMP to remove all political and commercial ads/hoardings from the city without exception, including on bus terminals.

While the BBMP has managed to enforce the ban in much of the city, huge advertisements against public right-of-way still dot prominent locations within the city. Skywalks near the Jawahar Lal Nehru Planetarium and the BBMP building itself carry commercial ads.

“Those are ‘legal’ ads,” said P. Venkatesh, Joint Commissioner (Finance) of BBMP “They have got stay orders from the High Court. We have no authority to remove them. We have cracked down on people putting up illegal ads and will continue to do so.”

  • Apple advertisement in front of BBMP headquarters. One of the several "legal" advertisements dotting the city.

According to Mr. Venkatesh, the BBMP hasn’t issued new permits for private companies to advertise in public places since 2015, but a few companies had their three-year contracts renewed by the state government in 2018, complicating the issue of removing them for the BBMP.

It’s a similar situation with the Hebbal flyover and the surrounding areas. According to BBMP’s Advertising Department, Avinashi Ads, a private company, holds a 30-year contract with the Bangalore Development Authority to place commercial ads in return for beautifying and maintenance of the flyover. 

Shrimoyee Bhattacharya, an expert on sustainable development of cities says huge billboards that are placed to attract commuters are not only a traffic hazard but are also environmental concerns. 

“In any developing city hoardings or any other form of unregulated outdoor advertisements will lead to exploitation and even irreversible ecological damage,” she said. “Huge billboard advertisements are not only unpleasant to look at but also use non-eco-friendly materials in construction and harm fragile urban ecosystems.” 

When the High Court of Karnataka allowed the BBMP and HAL to put up temporary ads during Aeroshow 2019, it asked them to only use 100 percent cotton materials on wooden structures. For Aeroshow 2021, it’s not clear if the same measures were taken.

  • Empty steel structures used for hoardings belonging to Avinashi Ads

In November 2020, the BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad ordered a survey of structures used for advertising, including ones that don’t have advertisements on them. The survey was supposed to help the BBMP identify illegal structures and their removal by February 19, 2021. Despite the deadline passing, the city’s skyline is still dotted with iron and steel structures.