KOCHI: The tragic incident in which a 23-year-old woman died in Chennai after a hoarding fell on her in the middle of the road last week is a timely warning to Kochi, where hoardings are placed unscientifically. Worse, the billboards are erected without adhering to any norms, say experts. Though Kochi corporation, Maradu, Kalamassery and Thrikkakkara municipalities have given permission to erect hoardings, officials are clueless about their structural stability. Many of the hoardings are atop houses and commercial buildings and they are directly facing the roads. Though the rule stipulates that hoardings have to be placed 10 m away from roads, 100 m away from junctions, it is not followed.
And the licensing authority has turned a blind eye towards such violations, it is alleged. “No hoardings are erected based on a standard operating procedure. No civic body is measuring the actual structure and the concrete mixture used for erecting the hoardings atop buildings. Who has issued permission to these? How can the civic body ensure the hoardings can withstand heavy wind and rain?” asked a member of Road Safety Authority. He said though the Kerala Road Safety Act section 14 directs the licensing authority to remove such structures, they have not done anything so far.
“Though we have issued a direction to remove so many structures, no action has been taken so far. It is not just Chennai, even cities in Kerala are under threat. Similar accidents can happen any time here,” said the officer. He said the state had also failed to bring in a dedicated policy to monitor hoardings. “Since the state government failed to pass the draft policy, the Indian Road Congress policy has to be followed here. But in a state like Kerala, the rules have become a joke. Even though the National Highway stretch which is flooded with several hoardings that distract the attention of drivers, the authorities have not taken a single case,” said the officer.
Government yet to consider High Court order
Last year a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice A M Shafique directed the state government to take steps to stop placing new hoardings and advertisement boards along the highway. Though the Chief Secretary had passed an order stating that the Steel Industries Ltd Kerala (SILK) has been entrusted with the task of removing hoardings which impede the free flow of traffic, it failed to yield result.
The petition filed before the HC stated that installation of hoardings and advertisement boards endangered road safety. It causes major accidents, death and destruction of properties. Further, torrential rain and wind during monsoon enhance the chance of accidents and deaths. “It is the responsibility of civic bodies to ensure the safety of hoardings which are mostly erected on top of buildings. Since the Fire and Rescue Services is a recommending authority, it cannot initiate any enforcement drive. The sole responsibility is vested with the local bodies,” K K Shiju, Regional Fire Officer, said.
Dedicated space for hoardings a distant dream
The corporation’s plans to allot a dedicated space for erecting advertisement hoardings in the city remain on paper. The directive to identify a dedicated space for advertisement boards came after the Kerala High Court issued a direction to allow local bodies to remove unauthorised flex boards/billboards/advertisement boards/flags. Though a Bengaluru-based agency has been entrusted to find a suitable place to erect advertisement boards, the corporation is yet to discuss the matter at the council.
According to Town Planning Standing Committee chairperson Shiny Mathew, the corporation had cleared many illegally erected flex boards and hoardings. “As per the official records, nearly 1,700 hoardings are legally erected but there are several illegal hoardings in the city. Though we have taken a decision to convene an adalat to discuss it, it is yet to happen. Soon, a meeting will be held to discuss the same,” Shiny said.