Classic case of state poking its nose into BBMP: Will Bengaluru have advertisement hoardings?

The High Court has upheld BBMP's new bye-laws that ban hoardings in Bengaluru. But the state government is reluctant to accept the order. Does this mean Bengaluru will have hoardings again? And why is the state government poking its nose into BBMP's affairs at all?

For a while, Bengaluru has been sporting skeletal metal frames where glossy advertisement hoardings once stood. The city had been stripped of its hoardings after the BBMP Council passed a resolution last year, banning these. The Council also passed the draft Outdoor Signage and Public Messaging Bye-laws, 2018, that would ban all commercial hoardings.

But the state government wanted to allow hoardings in the city, which led to a tussle between the government and BBMP. State government’s UDD (Urban Development Department) even published a separate set of laws – the BBMP Advertisement Rules, 2019 – this July 15th. These Rules allow commercial hoardings, and attempt to circumvent the BBMP’s decision.

The question is, which of these laws would prevail now – the BBMP bye-laws or the UDD Rules? Would the city have hoardings again, or not? More importantly, why is the state government interfering in a decision that was already made by the BBMP Council – that is, the city’s elected representatives?

High court order has not ended the confusion

On August 23rd, while hearing a PIL, the High Court ordered the state government to publish the BBMP bye-laws in its official gazette. The court told the government to consider the bye-laws sanctioned, as per the KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporation) Act, 1976. The bye-laws will come into effect three months after it is published in the gazette, which would mean that hoardings would be banned in the city from then.

But despite the court order, there is no clarity on whether the city would have hoardings or not. BBMP councillors have taken the order to mean that their bye-laws would prevail, but state government isn’t backtracking on its Rules either.

Padmanabha Reddy, opposition leader in the BBMP Council, says the HC has upheld the BBMP bye-laws. “Once the court has deemed it approved, it is final. The UDD’s Rules are nullified. Within three months, the gazette notification will be done and the new bye-law will be in place,” Reddy says.

However, V Sreenidhi, the lawyer representing BBMP in the PIL hearing, declined to comment since the final judgement is pending in the case. The case, filed by petitioner Narayanaswamy B against BBMP, has been adjourned to September 6th.

Meanwhile, the UDD is still hoping for a judgement that favours its Rules. B H Anil Kumar, who took charge as the new BBMP commissioner last Wednesday, told reporters that both the BBMP and the UDD would wait for the High Court’s decision. He said he was hopeful that the UDD Rules would prevail, and that the final draft of the Rules would be out in a month. Kumar had dealt with the Rules as Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) at the UDD; he still holds the chair of ACS at the department.

Jayamahal corporator M K Gunashekar says Kumar does not want to abandon the Rules since these were made during his tenure at the UDD. “But after the court order, the commissioner has said he would accept the bye-laws too. This has confused the council,” Gunashekar said. He says if the court accepts the Rules over the bye-laws, he would push for an appeal before the court. “We don’t want the hoardings to come back,” he says.

A case of state interference

Mathew Idiculla, a research associate at the Centre for Law and Policy Research, says, “This is a classic case of state interference, and of multiple bodies thinking they can regulate the city when there is no clear hierarchy laid down”.

He says the KMC Act gives statutory rights for municipal corporations to make bye-laws, and for the state government to frame policies, rules and regulations on various topics. “Usually, the Rules seem to be higher in statutory value than bye-laws. Ideally, it should not be the case, as there is no clear provision for it; but this is how bureaucracy works,” he says.

Idiculla further says that, since the High Court has ordered a gazette publication, the state government should abide by it, else it would be contempt of court. “However, I am not sure whether the court has legally considered the bye-laws to be consistent with the Rules. If not, this is not a conclusive decision. We have to wait for a judgement.”

How the government drafted ‘BBMP Rules’

BBMP Council had submitted the draft bye-laws for UDD’s approval, on December 31st last year. These bye-laws were to replace BBMP’s previous Advertisement Bye-laws of 2006. State government’s delay in approving the new bye-laws had irked councillors. Some councillors like Padmanabha Reddy had pointed out that, according to Section 425 of the KMC Act, if UDD didn’t sanction the bye-laws within three months of receiving it, it would be deemed to have been sanctioned.

But instead of considering BBMP’s bye-laws, UDD came out with its own draft Rules this July, misleadingly named ‘the BBMP Advertisement Rules, 2019’. UDD’s justification for this, was that “the BBMP advertisement Bye-law 2006 or any other bye-law made in this behalf, which is in force, was not adequate.” The government also gave BBMP 15 days to come up with objections and suggestions to the new Rules it had drafted.

Though the BBMP Council decides on the city’s affairs, some provisions of the KMC Act allow the government to interfere quite arbitrarily. Section 427 of the Act allows the government to make Rules if “the corporation has failed to make any bye-laws or if the bye-laws made by it are not, in its opinion adequate.” Section 421 states that the Government can notify rules to carry out the purposes of the Act.

It is these provisions that the government used, to declare that the Rules it framed “shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the BBMP Advertisement bye-laws, 2006 or any other bye-law regulating advertisements in force”.

Not surprisingly, BBMP councillors vehemently opposed the government’s Rules. On August 8th, Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun also wrote a letter to the UDD rejecting the Rules, and requesting it to approve the BBMP bye-laws.

As the BBMP Council protests state interference, and the state stands by its decision, one will have to wait and watch whether the city will indeed have hoardings again.

[In the second part of this series, we look at how the BBMP bye-laws and UDD Rules are different, and these mean for hoardings in the city]

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