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Civic authorities to implement the OAP in ‘Letter and Spirit’: Delhi High Court; will this change Delhi`s OOH landscape?

11, May, 2015

Abhinav Mohapatra, New Delhi

Last Wednesday, the Delhi High Court gave the city’s municipal corporation two months’ time to implement the Outdoor Advertising Policy of 2007 and ensure that all media that are contrary to the policy are taken down. This episode started on April 8th 2015, when the Delhi High court had issued notices to the municipal corporations of east, north and south Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Cantonment Board, city government and the police seeking their replies on whether the Outdoor Advertising Policy and the Delhi Prevention of Defamation Act were being implemented in ‘letter and spirit’ post hearing a PIL by a Delhi resident. The High Court had expressed concern over billboards, hoardings and posters, both commercial and political that were put up across the city, which were in ‘gross violation’ of the policy and had directed municipal authorities to immediately remove such illegal structures.

Indrajit Sen, Executive Director, Indian Outdoor Advertising Association says that illegal media is not supposed to be there in the first place because affects the business of the companies that have the legal media. “Illegal media does not pay taxes according to what the norms are and are offered at a much lower price, they destroy the market and increase the supplies more than what is required. They completely spoil any rates that could be otherwise got by players who have got legal sites and pay taxes, fees etc,” he states.

Sen further adds that the landscape for viewing will be far better if the policy is implemented to the letter. “For example you live in a society that has stealing and thieves, if one gang of thieves is put behind bars, does that mean that the stealing stops? In this case the job of the municipal corporation is to monitor and remove illegal sites on a day to day basis, why is that they come into action only when there is a High Court Order?”

More than a week back on April 30th 2015, the IOAA and DOAA had approached the bench with the petition that due to the ‘mushrooming’ of illegal hoardings, those who are putting up such structures legally are being affected and sought directions to the civic agencies to implement the 2007 policy. The High Court had at that time refused to pass any order, stating that the PIL launched earlier in April is being heard by a division and combined IOAA’s plea with it. Both the petitions were to be presented on 6th of May, which resulted in the High Court’s order of OAP’s implementation.

Allaboutoutdoor.com spoke to a large number of outdoor asset owners who have mixed reviews regarding the news and how the order will change Delhi’s OOH landscape. While most players think that a major chunk of the outdoor assets in Delhi will be eventually be removed if OAP is implemented by the letter, other media owners feel that this is an opportune moment for the authorities concerned and the media fraternity to come together and make amendments for making the OAP more user-friendly. A separate group of media owners think that if the OAP is implemented, illegal sites will finally be removed and the outdoor advertising fraternity will flourish.

Good, bad or ugly?

Ritesh Vasudeva, Promoter, Hindustan Publicity thinks that there will be no OOH landscape left if the order is implemented in letter and spirit since a huge majority of the assets will be removed, even those that are legal and are under the authority tenders. “Now it is not a matter of legal versus illegal, it is a matter of policy implementation; which is a confusing state because according to the OAP more than 60 per cent of Delhi will have to be removed. For example the policy states that unipoles on or near footpaths are not allowed and will have to be removed, if now the legal unipoles that are constructed on the footpaths will go then where else will they be erected?”

The original PIL had been filed by Shivraj Kumar, an 83-year-old retired colonel, who has contested that the outdoor media advertising hoardings, billboards, banners and posters of no fixed sizes are being put up on residential buildings that violate the OAP. The retired colonel has requisitioned the removal of illegal hoardings and banners as they deface the skyline, buildings and walls as well as pose a threat to the traffic and pedestrians. According to media reports, he has also claimed that the hoardings and billboards that have been installed in public spaces or private buildings are in some cases, hanging dangerously from homes and buildings.

“There are legal media in the city which are properly displayed, but when you see any media on footpaths like bus shelters, unipoles etc that have just mushroomed up, these are traffic hazards and are a hindrance to pedestrians,” says Ashok Chopra, Proprietor, Magnum OOH. “Now the media that is on the wall and on the rooftop will also be removed since they are against the OAP, the BRT corridor will be cleaned; I think major changes are going to happen to Delhi`s landscape if this order is implemented. And there will be an obvious change in the market share of Delhi outdoor advertising both in terms of volume and numbers post policy implementation. I feel this is not a very good news for the industry but yes if we see it from another angle, the aesthetics of the city will improve. Nevertheless, it will be tough for the newcomers,” he adds.

Shailendra Luthra, Director, Brite Neon Signs feels that only those media units are being targeted that are not adhering to the policy, everything is not being targeted since everything is not against the policy, whatever is genuine will stay what is not will go. “By this week we will have more clarity on what is going to be targeted, currently there is a lot of confusion regarding the media being targeted the corporation has to be clear on what is the next step and how the OAP should be implemented,” he opines.

Interestingly the Delhi High Court has also said that the direction to implement the OAP includes tendered sites that violate the policy whether be unipoles, rooftop hoardings, billboards, etc. The corporations have been ordered to take action under the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act of 2009 and file a status report by the 14th of August which lists down the steps taken by the authorities concerned to implement the 2007 policy and 2009 act.

Keeping the faith

“The illegal media needs to be removed, my question is why was the illegal media put up in the first place and why haven’t the authorities removed it till now? I feel there is nothing new about it. Majority of the media in Delhi are bus shelters and unipoles, which I feel are all in sync with the policy, there are some structures, not exactly wall wraps which will have to be removed for the policy to be implemented. It is bad news for the players who have the wall wraps and media that came in later with tenders that are going to be removed,” says Atul Srivastava, Chief Operating Officer, Laqshya Media.

Pramod Bhandula, Executive Chairman, JCDecaux India feels if the 2007 policy is implemented thoroughly then Delhi will become a world class city, the cityscape and the skyline will be aesthetically great. “I don’t know as yet whether JCDecaux’s media will be affected since I have not seen the official order as yet, my reaction is on the basis of the media reports that says that the High Court has given 2 months to the authorities to implement the 2007 policy. The policy supports small formats such as street furniture, bus shelters etc. If that is implemented in a true spirit, then it will be good for the industry, but then it will have to be maintained,” he states.

We will not see the 1997 fiasco, Delhi at that time was not what it is today. That time only the billboards were removed since it was too much. At that time there were no regulations, anybody could do anything, whenever there is excess of anything, it does not stay for long, that is the law of nature. Today we are talking about the world class city and developing smart cities and to make that we need all the parameters. There should not be any contradiction in the core philosophy of the policy if the capital needs to become truly world class.

Let’s see how much time is taken to implement all, since a month back the PIL was raised that there is too much of illegal activity. Now the DOAA like the IOAA has also joined in requesting quick implementation. It will be a great move for the OOH industry in Delhi if whatever is being discussed is practised.

A bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva passed the order to the civic authorities to implement the OAP in letter and spirit. The bench also made it clear that if the required action is not taken by the authorities concerned and if violations of the policy will still be prevalent, the commercial officers from the advertising department of each civic body in-charge will be held responsible.

Practical future?

Ajay Gupta, Managing Partner, Number One Advertising and Marketing explains that the order is not only for hoardings it is for all the advertising devices which are contrary to the policy of 2007. What was happening was that the policy was being flouted in many ways given liberty by the municipal corporation, they gave sanction to building wraps which literally climbed up to the rooftop of the buildings, the policy also says that there should be a gap of 75m between every device, that was also not followed, there was mushroom growth of so many devices like bus shelters with that MUPIs and more displays with the MUPIs which was on the footpath, same with the unipoles that were on the footpaths and this is all contrary to the policy. Hence, the high court has decided that everything contrary to the policy should go, whether it is in tender or not.

“According to that order a huge number of advertising devices will go, which is not very healthy. We will not be seeing another 1997 fiasco in Delhi, it is not necessary, because the MCD has been given power with the Municipal corporation Act in which the commissioner has the power to amend and make changes to the policy but keeping the aesthetics and general public convenience in view which should not be hampered. Advertising is the right to choose, without advertising the city looks blank, it is the right of information. Only thing should be that it should be placed properly and should not be placed in a pot where it can cause traffic or humanitarian hazard. The policy was made in a hurry, New Delhi is a versatile city and the policy was made looking at the cities of the world comparing Japan, China and New York. One cannot compare Delhi with the policies of these places, it needs a policy of its own which are according to the city landscape, the people and the infrastructure. Hence, there is a need of a revamp. In that we have to involve everyone, it should be fair to all the players and all the advertising devices and the aesthetics,” adds Gupta.

The DOAA has indicated that the corporations themselves are giving permission for hoardings and billboards that violate the OAP. The industry body also claimed that there weren’t any specified sites for informal advertisements in the interest of freedom of speech as provided under the policy. Due to ‘mushrooming’ of illegal media assets the legal media owners are losing out in the market.

Gupta also states that out of three corporations, two have already approached DOAA and are ready to make some amendments in the policy. Post that is done things will come into place. This is what DOAA is doing and soon they will give their suggestions.

The municipal used to file FIRs and remove the devices, but for the first time the high court has said that the government officer in-charge will be held responsible, if there is anything contrary to the policy the official will be reprimanded. Gupta thinks that our country needs this, if the officials take charge then everything will fall into place. “I think the court has given a good order this will in turn help the corporations and the industry players to work together and revamp the policy, make it more user friendly so that everyone can peacefully co-exist. If this does not happen, 3-4 per cent of Delhi’s population that is involved in this business will suffer,” he appends.

With the court’s order to implement the OAP in the coming two months and asking for a status report on 14th of August; make the corporations reel into action immediately or take the outdoor media advertising fraternity into confidence and roll out a plan? A few media owners in the beginning of the year had claimed that the industry will slowly get into a process of consolidation. Is this one of those moments? Will the OAP be amended and not frowned upon by the majority asset owners? Only time will tell.

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