Regulating wall posters in Chennai must go beyond fines

There are demerits to having posters across Chennai's public and private walls but also a large economy around it. How can this be regulated?

As Ramanan S tears down a political wall poster from the compound wall of his house in Chennai’s Tiruvottriyur he frustratedly says, “This has turned to a huge menace now. It is clearly written here not to paste posters and I wonder why people keep doing this.”

He has had to remove wall posters despite painting his wall with a ‘stick no bills’ sign,

He points out that the number of posters from the ruling party has increased over time that the party cadres in the locality not only stick them on the public walls but also stick them on the private walls and deface them.

Sridevi R, a resident of Royapuram, notes that several walls in Chennai, mainly the ones beneath the flyovers in the locality, have been defaced even after the civic body took measures to paint them under Singara Chennai 2.0 project spending lakhs of rupees on it.

“Many movie posters are also stuck on the sign boards. When such posters are stuck on the signboards that carry the name of the streets, it becomes a public nuisance,” she says.

Kaviarasan M, a college student in Nungambakkam also finds the wall posters on the public and private walls an eyesore. “In many of the walls, the wall posters are only spoiling the beauty of the streets. The walls look ugly. When the posters are stuck on top of each other, it also becomes hard to read what it tries to convey. It not only fails to serve the purpose of communicating the content but also spoils the beauty of the city,” he says.

The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) taking several measures to completely get rid of wall posters in Chennai. But factoring in the utility of wall posters and the micro-economy that thrives on poster printing in the city is key to finding a solution to this issue.

Read more: Curbing the use of wall posters in Chennai

Economy around wall posters in Chennai

Kumar S used to earn a living by pasting posters on city walls two decades ago. 

“We used to take the poster bits and the glue in a cycle and paste it all across the city. Back then, we will get Rs 50 paise or so for four posters. The number of posters will also be large in number,” he says, adding that there are not as many posters in Chennai now as it was earlier. “But there still are a lot of individuals whose main source of income is from sticking posters on the walls.”

Murugan J, who is a poster printer in Chennai, says that he gets orders for many varieties of posters. “People give orders for birthdays, marriages, deaths, exam results, sports events, achievements and so on. There are other sets of posters that are printed by the fan clubs of different cinema stars. These people use posters to launch a war of words with their rival fan clubs,” he says, adding that whichever party is in power gets hold of larger spaces on the walls in prominent places for wall posters.

“It will cost between Rs 8 to Rs 10 to print a basic poster when orders are made in bulk. Orders for posters for birthdays, obituaries or death anniversaries are usually very less in number. There will be hardly 100 posters as their geographical limitation is very less. On the other hand, we get bulk orders for commercial posters. The quantity of order for political posters keeps differing from time to time. Of the Rs 8 cost for printing one poster, the printer hardly gets Rs 2 after all the expenses and labour charges” he says.

Read more: Why Chennai has not been able to get rid of illegal street hoardings

Mohan K, another printer, observes that there are thousands of families whose livelihood depends on the posters. “Right from those who sell the ink for the machines to the printers and those who paste them on the walls, there are thousands of families that depend on this business. Rather than coming up with blanket ban measures, all those families will have a better future if the government takes measures to streamline this industry,” he says.

“There is a socio-cultural and economic aspect to this that involves the livelihood of thousands of families as well,” says writer A Muthukrishnan.

GCC’s measures against wall posters in Chennai

“We are regularly removing all the posters from public places, walls, bus stops, street names boards and other such sign boards. We are imposing a fine on the violators. We are also lodging police complaints and First Information Reports (FIR) are being registered against the miscreants who deface the public places with wall posters in Chennai,” says N Mahesan, Chief Engineer (Solid Waste Management) of Greater Chennai Corporation.

wall poster fines chennai
Greater Chennai Corporation has been levying fines to curb the wall poster menace in Chennai. Pic: Greater Chennai Corporation

To prevent indiscriminate pasting of posters across the city, as part of the beautification works under the Singara Chennai 2.0 project, the local body has also been painting several walls in Chennai. 

Varying amounts have been levied as fines to prevent the pasting of posters. The civic body has collected fines amounting to Rs 4.7 lakhs over the course of a month during its drive to rid the city of posters. 

Residents have been encouraged to call the helpline number 1913 to lodge complaints against those pasting wall posters in public and private places.

While it is important to address the nuisance created by sticking wall posters on important sign boards, it is also significant for the government to look into the cultural connection it has in the lives of the people.

“Not only do wall posters in Chennai have an economy revolving around it, it is also a larger part of the subaltern culture,” says Muthukrishnan.

Given the significance of the role of such wall posters in people’s lives, Muthukrishnan suggests that imposing fines will in no way help in curbing the menace. Instead, creating earmarked spaces for posters, placing a cap on numbers and standardising size may be some measures that can confine posters to certain spots in the city.

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