Supreme Court says no billboards, Karachi says no problem, builds walls

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Pakistan Apr 23:A ban is no fun unless you can find a way around it without getting burned. 

Karachi’s advertisers were crestfallen in 2016 when the Supreme Court banned billboards and hoardings. Not long after, though, some genius who read the judgment found a loophole: billboards were banned—not walls.

By the end of 2017, if you passed FTC on Shahrah-e-Faisal, you would have noticed that they had taken down the large double billboards around the fountain park and started building a big wall. Today there are two, one on the green circle and one behind it, at the curve of the down ramp. This is not land covered by the city government. These new walls have mostly gone up on railway land or cantonment land.

“These actions are illegal and KMC has nothing to do with it,” said Noor Baloch of the local taxes department while speaking to SAMAA Digital. “This is a violation of the court’s order and amounts to contempt of court.”

The KMC local taxes department used to make millions of rupees in its yearly billboard auction. It is a multi-billion rupee business that earned the big bucks for KMC, cantonment boards and other land-owning agencies in the city. But that source of revenue came to a stop on June 30, 2016 which was the Supreme Court deadline to take them down. The SC banned billboards as they were erected illegally all across the city. There were an estimated 3,000 of them on main arteries, but this was a low count. 

Another wall has been erected by the boundary of Gora Qabristan as well. There is another near Dolmen Mall at Sea View.

The Supreme Court had said that no billboards and hoardings could be put up on public property which it defined as: roads, sidewalks, median islands, overhead bridges, pedestrian walkways and underpasses, roundabouts, green belts, pedestrian lanes and nullahs.
“[Putting up walls on] all public property like roads, footpaths, islands etc is illegal,” said Amir Siddiqui, who has served as the general secretary of the billboards association. “[It is legal] only for private property like buildings.”

He said that mostly new people were erecting these walls. This was not necessarily the work of the old group of professional advertisers. “The court did not stop pasting, on walls, windows, at an elevation,” he added. “They have taken advantage of that and started pasting on walls.”

Siddiqui felt that there was a chance that the court would take notice of what has been happening.
Ever since billboards were taken down, outdoor advertising that was available could demand higher rates. “The thing that we sold for two, is now going for four,” Siddiqui said, by way of explanation. “At the FTC, for example, the space we sold for five to six lakhs is now going for 25 lakhs.” He says that the advantage of the walls is that they are at eye level, which is what companies love.