In an embarrassment to the State government, the Karnataka High Court on Friday revoked the permission to put up temporary hoardings across the city for public awareness messages about COVID-19 for “misusing” the court’s order by including advertisements of private companies in the hoardings.
The court ordered an inquiry against the Director, Health & Family Welfare Services, who had authorised a private advertisement agency to put up the temporary hoardings, and allowed private advertisements on the hoardings about COVID-19 awareness.
As some private companies were benefited from the advertisements illegally put up on the hoardings, the court directed the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to assess the advertisement tax to be paid for such advertisements and recover the same from the Department of Health and Family Welfare, which has to collect the tax from private companies whose advertisements were used on the hoardings.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S. Kinagi directed the government to appoint a senior officer to conduct an inquiry against the Director, H&FWS specifically on the Director’s actions of appointing M/s Wall Street Communications (WSC), a private agency, to put up hoardings, and asking the agency to use advertisements on the hoardings.
The counsel for WSC told the court that the format of the hoardings containing private advertisements were provided by the Director, H&FWS.
The bench, in its July 15 order, had specifically imposed a condition that hoardings should not contain any advertisement of any person or product. The court had granted permission on an application filed by the government in a batch of pending PIL petitions on illegal hoardings.
The bench observed that the court was not informed earlier that sponsorship of private companies would be used for putting up hoardings as the government had specifically stated in writing that an amount from the BBMP’s budgetary allocation for advertisements would be used for putting up COVID-19 messages on hoardings.
As the government on Friday said that it has already removed a majority of the hoardings following the court’s September 18 order, the bench gave two weeks to pull down the remaining ones.
While directing the government to inform the court whether any money was spent by the government or by the BBMP for putting up the hoardings, or any money was received from private companies, the bench adjourned further hearing till October 13.