Disregard for instructions from State Government secretaries, non-compliance with court orders, usurpation of District Collector’s powers are something that the Coimbatore Corporation seem to be doing at ease.
Or so it appears, if one considers its track record in issues concerning unauthorised bus shelters, the illegal advertisements therein, illegal hoardings, advertisements on traffic poles and road junctions and the latest, digital advertisement boards.
That the Corporation was found on the wrong of the side of law is only one side of the coin. The other is that the civic body’s actions have led to loss to the exchequer.
The story, as far as the bus shelters go, starts sometime in 2010 when the Corporation came forward to shoulder the responsibility of establishing new bus shelters and maintaining existing shelters so as to bring about uniformity in bus shelters in the city.
The District Road Safety Committee (DRSC) that comprises the District Collector, Transport Department officials, City and Rural police and civil society activists agreed to let the civic body do so but with the following caveats: that the Corporation should establish new bus shelters only with the DRSC’s concurrence, the advertisements in the shelters should have the permission of the District Collector, who is the licensing authority, and advertisement tax paid by advertisers and the Corporation’s revenue from auctioning advertisements rights should be set aside to be used for road safety.
But that is what happened since, as copies of records available with The Hindu show.
“The problem was that the Corporation saw bus shelters not as public utility space but cash cow,” says DRSC member and consumer activist K. Kathirmathiyon. “In trying to earn as much revenue as possible from the shelters, the Corporation threw all rules to the wind so much so that successive Coimbatore Collectors had to often remind the Corporation of its responsibility.”
After Corporation established bus shelters without the DRSC approval, auctioned advertisement permissions for up to 20 years, let the advertisement agencies display advertisements, Collectors K. Karunakaran, Archana Patnaik and T.N. Hariharan wrote to the Corporation asking it to act against the illegality.
The Corporation’s actions turned so brazen at one point in time that the then Collector Ms. Patnaik wrote to the then Municipal Administration and Water Supply Secretary and also Chief Secretary highlighting the civic body’s transgressions and usurpation of her powers.
In auctioning advertisement permissions for 20 years, the Corporation did more than what the Collectors could do, Mr. Kathirmathiyon says and points out that even Collectors can only grant advertisement license for three years.
On the second issue of advertisement boards dangling from poles holding traffic lights, the Corporation acted only after the State Highways and National Highways removed those on their respective roads.
The violation here was that the advertisement boards were in contravention of road safety rules and Indian Road Congress norms. In acting against hoardings too, the Corporation was found wanting. Even after the then Collector T.N. Hariharan wrote to the Corporation in May 2018, the Corporation did not remove the unauthorised hoardings.
The Collector had to remind the Corporation in September that year and seek a status report. What happened next was that only more letters followed, from the Collector to the Corporation. It was only around March this year that the Corporation removed unauthorised hoardings.
But there are illegal hoardings and the Corporation does nothing about it, complains Mr. Kathirmathiyon.
The latest from the Corporation in the line of excesses is the permission to install 30 digital advertisement boards in violation of road safety rules, court orders, Municipal Administration and Water Supply Secretary instructions, and, again without Collector’s license for display of advertisements.
The Corporation had erected the digital boards violating rules that say that the boards should be 10 feet away from road margin, 100m away from junctions and the display should not face the oncoming traffic and if the display was digital nothing other than time, temperature and weather should be displayed.
But the Corporation had allowed the erection of boards.
The DRSC member says the civic body was forced to act only after the Coimbatore Consumer Cause took it to the notice of the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Secretary saying the Corporation’s action was in contempt of court.
In all the instances, the Corporation had flouted the rules and with ease at that because it failed to act despite being asked to follow the law by various government officers, he further says and adds that the Corporation does not seem to have public safety, concern for rule of law or loss to the exchequer at mind.
Corporation officials, on condition of anonymity, say that the civic body has removed illegal hoardings, unauthorised advertisement boards and acted well within the law.
Collector K. Rajamani and Commissioner Sravan Kumar Jatavath could not be reached for comments.
Date: November 14, 2019