MUMBAI: The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) faced the ire of the Bombay High Court for using a hoarding, which the civic body had itself termed illegal earlier, to advertise an upcoming event that would be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The MCGM used the 90x20 ft hoarding in suburban Bandra for advertisement of the Magnetic Maharashtra Convergence conclave, but it turned out that for the last several years, the civic body had been asking the owners of the hoarding to remove it on the ground it was illegal and exceeded the maximum 40x40 ft size permitted by it.
The conclave would be inaugurated by Modi tomorrow.
In a hearing on Thursday, Justice Gautam Patel, who was presiding over a petition filed by the owner of the hoarding seeking relief, questioned how the civic body had used the hoarding for displaying a government ad when it had been claiming that the hoarding was illegal.
"Till recently the hoardings were blank. On February 6, the petitioner was among several persons who received a notice from the MCGM directing the petitioner to put up on these hoardings what is euphemistically called a civic message," Justice Patel said.
"That expression does violence to the language, for what the petitioner was asked to put up by the MCGM was nothing but a political poster featuring the Hon'ble Chief Minister and the Hon'ble Prime Minister in advance of the Magnetic Maharashtra Convergence 2018," he said.
The MCGM claimed in using the hoarding, it had merely acted on an e-mail from the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporations advertisement section asking it to ensure that "all hoardings between the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and Nariman Point are kept available for advertising or displaying hoardings relating to this conclave."
MCGM lawyer Anil Sakhre told the HC the civic body had a policy allowing a free use of private hoardings for display of a civic message for 15 days in a year.
Justice Patel, however, termed this submission as contradictory.
"This is a contradiction. How can the MCGM make use of hoardings that it itself says are non-conforming with its policy and are without a licence.
"That policy can only apply in respect of a conforming, duly licenced hoarding. The MCGM cannot have it both ways," he said.
"It cannot say that a citizen may not use his hoarding for legitimate commercial purposes because it violates some requirement, rule, specification or guideline, and at the same time say, for what are obviously political purposes, that very non-conforming hoarding should be used, despite being unlicensed and non-conforming, because the state government through one of its entities says so," Justice Patel said.
He said the MCGM using an illegal hoarding for its own purposes would either mean that the hoarding was not illegal, or, that the state and the civic body were together permitting or perpetrating an illegality.
"No authority at any level at the Centre and the state can insist on the use of an unlicensed or illegal hoarding for any purpose whatsoever. If a person may not use it for a legitimate commercial purpose, he or she cannot be forced to serve some state government or political end," the HC said.
"Therefore, in all future matters, the MCGM is not entitled to demand the display of any messages, civic or otherwise, on hoardings other than those that have a valid, existing license," Justice Patel said.
He directed the civic body to permit the petitioner the use of his hoarding since he had already paid the corporation fees for the same for an entire year and had undertaken to reduce its size to meet with its rules.
Justice Patel cautioned the MCGM against violating his order, saying any violation would "immediately invite judicial action, irrespective of who commanded such illicit displays, for whom, and for what purpose."