It seems too good to be true, isn’t it? We allude to the fact that the city’s pavements, such as what they are, have been completely free of digital banners and hoardings praising our political worthies for the past two weeks. As we are not too sure as to how long this will last, we entreat everyone to go out and make the maximum use of the open spaces till the hoardings come back. For, return they certainly will – the current spate of removals having taken place only after the High Court of Madras came down heavily on the administration.

We as a journal have always maintained that this country does not lack good laws. What it needs is the will and discipline to implement them. This stance of ours is more than vindicated in the latest episode in the digital banner/flexboard story. Despite the law expressly forbidding the erection of such hoardings, those who put them up have done so in open defiance.

The procedure for getting permission is rather simple – you need to approach the Chennai Collectorate, which issues the permits provided the applications are accompanied by no-objection certificates from the Corporation. Such an easy process is too much for our lawmakers who otherwise expect the citizenry to spend half its working life filling in the most complicated forms and following the most elaborate procedures. What is happening in reality is that those wanting to put up these flexboards and banners simply go ahead, relying on official apathy and, if needed, political clout to do the rest. As per law, even permitted banners need to be removed after three days. In reality they are taken off only when new ones are put up in their place.

The administration has chosen to watch silently. When questioned, officers have taken protection behind the usual excuse – of not having sufficient manpower to monitor these illegal obstructions and remove them. This despite the fact that arterial roads down which most of officialdom travels are the worst affected in terms of the numbers of such hoardings. Even the spaces outside police headquarters and the Corporation offices have not been spared. How much effort would it have taken to check these violations?

That this usual excuse was never a valid one became more than evident when the Court cracked the whip. Matters came to a head on June11th, when it was brought to the notice of the First Bench that, despite its ruling in 2011 prohibiting the erection of digital banners without prior permission, most political parties were merrily continuing to do so. The Court summoned the Advocate General to present the Government’s point of view. After hearing the matter out, the Court gave time till the end of day for removal of all banners failing which it said that it would be compelled to issue contempt notices to the Collector of Chennai, the Commissioner of the Corporation, the Police Commissioner, and the Assistant Commissioner.

That appears to have promptly ensured that sufficient manpower became magically available. Scores of banners were removed and carted away. The city has since remained free of these eyesores though it is fairly clear that they intend to return, given that most of the casuarina scaffoldings meant for them continue to remain where they were. Several of them have begun sporting banners that are ostensibly carrying messages on public welfare – rainwater harvesting being a favoured subject. No matter what information these banners carry, there is no denying that they are political in intent, nuisances and also potential hazards that need to be removed in full.

The manner in which the administration turned a blind eye all along only to swing into action when threatened with punishment does it no credit. Would it be fair to expect that all routine administrative matters will be acted on only if there is fear of an adverse court order?