General Elections have been announced and the model code of conduct for political parties has come into effect. With campaigning yet to begin, what with the list of candidates yet to be released by the political parties, what is in full swing is the defacement of walls of public and private buildings though is in gross violation of the code of conduct.
“No Political Party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use
of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his
permission , for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices,
writing slogans etc.” says clause 6 of the Model Code of Conduct for Political Parties and their Candidates, released by the Election Commission of India. The entire document is available on the web site – http://www.and.nic.in/election/mcc-amendment. pdf
How effective is this provision? In reality it is more or less toothless, with political parties taking advantage of several loopholes in the wording. Firstly, obtaining permission is easiest as it only involves intimidating those in occupation of the building. Most property owners have no say in the matter and their approval is taken for granted. If a property owner approaches the police or the election commission itself for redress, response is slow and often not forthcoming. The most common excuse given is the lack of manpower to remove such slogans and graffiti.
Secondly, while election campaigning by way of graffiti or posters on walls is prohibited, those felicitating leaders on their birthdays or congratulating them on some award or the other apparently are not. And with birthdays of prominent leaders of Tamil Nadu happening to be in February and March, most parties have made the most of the time before the actual code came into effect and have liberally plastered the walls with slogans, posters and graffiti.
Curiously, the Chennai Corporation which has Singara Chennai as its policy does not prevent defacement of public and private properties by political parties. There is also the Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of disfigurement) Act, 1959, as per which graffiti on private walls too are not permissible at any point of time, elections or not. But this is another law that has failed in implementation. Today defacement of walls is taken for granted that when an electoral code of conduct is not in place. Of course the chief violators are not only political parties.
However, the absence of any effective on such graffiti and slogans when an election process is not in effect has allowed political parties to get away with such defacement. When confronted with such violations parties argue that the poster or graffiti in question was done before the election code of conduct. Under such circumstances, it is left to the Chennai Corporation to spend money on removal of graffiti.
The civic body is planning to spend Rs 2 to Rs 5 per square foot to remove the graffiti from public and private properties. Needless to add, the taxpayer is the one who bears the cost of this wholly avoidable expenditure. How soon this will be done is open to question with the Mayor having stated that the process could extend well beyond the elections owing to shortage of manpower. With elections getting over, the code of conduct will cease to be in place and the graffiti will be allowed to remain. Irrespective of who wins the elections, the battle on graffiti and posters will always be won by the political parties.