=> Seven months have passed since four-year-old Moiz -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

=> Seven months have passed since four-year-old Moiz

Seven months have passed since four-year-old Moiz lost his mother, Zebunnisa, when an over-sized hoarding came crashing down on her during the June 23 rainstorm last year. Zebunnisa was one of the several victims who died due to the negligence of the Cantonment Board and the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) that allowed illegal over-sized billboards to flourish across the city.

While families of victims and other concerned citizens have been questioning the authorities about the re-emergence of billboards and the CDGK’s earlier claim of declaring Karachi as a hoarding-free city, the CDGK has clarified that the decision was reconsidered after the cantonment authorities refused to comply. According to Mohammad Rehan Khan, the District Officer, Local Tax Department, CDGK, when the cantonment authorities gave in to commercial pressure from outdoor advertising – despite the fact that a majority of deaths occurred in the latter’s jurisdiction – the CDGK “reconsidered its decision”.

However, the controversy now is unification of the CDGK and the cantonment administration under a single law. While the CDGK argues that the issue of hoarding should be addressed under the Advertisement and Signs Rule 2006 that has been approved by the City Council and is applicable to the entire city, the cantonment authorities refuse to unify and instead formulated their own set of rules at a meeting held post-June 23 that are not in compliance with the CDGK laws.

The cantonment authority justifies that the new by-laws have been formulated with the approval of all civic agencies whose representatives were present in the meeting held after the June 23 rainstorm, including that of the CDGK, and insist that these laws shall be applicable to the entire city, irrespective of the jurisdiction. However, the CDGK refuses to unify under by-laws that have not formulated democratically since they are not approved by the City Council.

“We agree that there should be a single authority to issue permission to the authorities but we cannot accept the laws that have been formulated undemocratically. We would have wanted that these laws be approved through a proper system during the City Council session, but the cantonment authorities did not agree,” informed Khan.

Khan further disclosed that the purpose of the meeting with various civic agencies (after the rainstorm) was not to formulate new laws but to constitute a committee to resolve the issue of jurisdiction and ensure a system of accountability under a single authority. “The purpose was not to frame another set of laws when there is already an approved by-law in the shape of Advertisement and Signs Rule 2006 approved by the City Council,” said Khan.

The request to constitute a committee for resolving the issue of jurisdiction was made by the former Prime Minister himself, informed Khan, as he produced a copy of the letter issued by the CDGK to the Station Commander Brigadier Bashir (who planned the by-laws) questioning this act of the cantonment officials. However, the CDGK has not yet received a response from him.

An official of Shehri-CBE, Naila Ahmed, also informed The News that before the June 23 incident, the cantonment authorities had no written by-laws as a result of which violations could be observed in all areas under their jurisdiction, including Sharae Faisal, which is one of the main arteries of the city. “Despite the fact that a majority of the deaths during the rainstorm occurred in the cantonment’s jurisdiction, the meeting did not ban the installation of hoardings, but supported the move to minimize the size of billboards that would not jeopardize human lives,” said Ahmed.

Under the cantonment by-laws, installation of hoardings on pavements, rooftops of houses, hotels and buildings as well as double-storey hoardings have been prohibited, as against the Advertisement and Signs Rule 2006 that permits installation of mega-sized hoardings on roof-tops. On the other hand, the CDGK has restricted the minimum distance between two billboards to 200ft while the cantonment authority has restricted to 50m. The two agencies, however, are unified on the maximum size of land hoarding that should not exceed 20’x60’.

Interestingly, apart from the jurisdiction of Cantonment Board Clifton, the remaining cantonment authorities are yet to abide by their own “standard policy” as one can witness violations on one of the main thoroughfares of the city including Sharae Faisal where there is no uniformity in the size of billboards or in the distance between two billboards.

Ahmed, on the other hand, has also expressed her doubt over the monitoring of violation of several clauses of the Advertisement and Signs Rule 2006. One of the clause states that the land hoarding would “be erected six feet away from the roadside to facilitate pedestrians” but a violation can be observed on roadside near Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim in Clifton (which falls under the CDGK jurisdiction), she informed. She said similar violations in the measurement of distance between two hoardings have been observed in other parts of the city, but the CDGK has taken no notice.

Khan, however, responded that a monitoring team has been formed comprising members of the Advertising Association and CDGK who are working to address the issue. He later added: “If the jurisdiction of a single city remains in the hands of multiple agencies that do not unify under a single law, such violations would be difficult to check. The involvement of so many agencies only leads to confusion as a result of which no single authority can be held accountable.”

While the issue of jurisdiction lingers and concerned authorities continue to shift blame when inquired about who bowed down to advertising pressure first, what is clear is that advertising is too lucrative a business for the civic agencies to abide by the president’s directives to ‘rid the city of hoardings’.

Source: The News