Payyoli panchayat first to take concrete action against the menace

The display of advertising in public spaces underwent a sea change in the past decade with the arrival of flex boards. The mushrooming of digital printing shops and ease of design meant that these glossy sheets rapidly replaced hand-painted hoardings and cloth banners.

But in a short period, their spread has changed the face of our cities for the worse.

Payyoli panchayat in Kozhikode is perhaps one of the first local bodies to take some concrete action in this regard with its declaration last week of becoming a ‘flex-free panchayat’.

Stipulations

It has put out an order banning the use of flex boards except in ‘unavoidable circumstances’. In such cases, the flex can be put up only two days before the programme and the organisation concerned has to remove it as soon as it is over. Any flex board which is displayed breaking these rules will be removed. In the second phase, flex boards will be replaced completely and only cloth banners will be permitted.

Panchayat president K.T. Sindhu told The Hindu that the project to weed out flex boards was being executed with the cooperation of political parties, clubs, other organisations and the police.

The trigger

“The plight of the Payyoli bus stand prompted the move. Not one wall was free of these boards and it was reducing visibility, which could lead to accidents. The plastic waste created another challenge for us as we do not have any facility to process it,” said Ms. Sindhu.

Most of the bigger civic bodies are yet to wake up to the menace. The district administration of Kozhikode had for instance in 2010 unveiled MAP, Mass Action for Plastic-free Kozhikode. It was to be executed over five phases starting from awareness campaigns to a complete ban on plastic and non bio-degradable items such as flex. However, three years down the line, the number of flexes has only increased.

“It needs to be studied whether this ban was effective. I have asked for the file to decide on further action,” said District Collector C.A. Latha. The Corporation has declared the area around Mananchira an advertisement-free area and seems to have found some success in keeping at least that part of the city clean.

“The decision to ban advertisements at Mananchira was taken during the last council’s tenure. If someone is found violating the rule, we immediately issue a notice asking them to remove it. The MAP project was unsuccessful in eliminating the problem and it only contributed to plastic waste from neighbouring villages being dumped within the Corporation limits,” said Mayor A.K. Premajam.

KSSP’s way

Blaming the civic bodies alone will be unfair as almost all organisations, right from residential associations to NGOs fighting for environmental causes, use flex boards to announce their programmes. But organisations such as the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad have shown the way forward by not using them for any promotional purposes.

“We stopped using flexes three years back and have now gone back to wall paintings and cloth banners. The health hazards caused by these cannot be ignored. Projects such as MAP which aimed at eliminating them did not go beyond the ‘creating-awareness’ level,” said A. Achuthan, environmentalist and former president of the parishad.

The general elections next year will aggravate the problem. The State Election Commission had denied permission to use flex boards for the local body elections in 2010. The decision was taken on the basis of a recommendation by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board which said poly vinyl chloride used for making the flex was non-biodegradable. But the Kerala High Court quashed the commission’s order after appeals were filed by the Flex Printing Owners Association of Kerala and a candidate from Muvattupuzha.

“The parties erect the boards and leave. No one comes back to remove them. They remain an eyesore,” says Mr. Achuthan.

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