Chennai techie death: OOH industry experts call for regulations to curb illegal hoardings

In the aftermath of a Chennai techie’s death due to an illegal hoarding, OOH industry experts speak to us about curbing the menace and how the industry can help authorities form regulatory guidelines

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Sep 18, 2019 9:05 AM



Illegal hoardings and banners across the country are an eyesore and have long been a menace. Last week in Chennai, a 23-year old techie died after an illegal hoarding installed by a political party fell on her. The victim was riding a two-wheeler when a hoarding fell on her, she lost her balance, and fell on the road where she was run over by a tanker. According to reports, the hoardings had been installed on the road and the divider for the high-profile wedding of former AIADMK Councillor S Jayagopal’s son.

After the fatal incident, the Madras High Court said that it was tired of passing orders against installation of flex boards and illegal hoardings in the state. The High Court has constantly said that hosting hoardings and flex boards of living persons should be stopped.

Despite court orders the concerned authorities have turned a blind eye to the menace. Now, soon after the incident the government authorities have started removing illegal hoardings in the state.  

But how long is this drive going to last and whether the government will be able to implement the orders. What are the other ways in which the menace of illegal hoardings and flex boards can be curbed? We spoke to industry experts.

Commenting on the incident, Pramod Bhandula, Executive Chairman at JCDecaux Advertising India Pvt Ltd, said, “It’s pity and requires stringent action against the violators, including authorities. The major issue here is that no authority has ever have acknowledged OOH as an industry, it’s treated with apathy, resulting in illegal menace.”

S Kumar, Managing Director, Srishti Communications, said, “At the outset, it is important to note that large format advertising using billboards and hoardings are prohibited in a city like Chennai, so the Out-of-Home advertising industry is not responsible in any way for the unfortunate accident that took the young tech professional’s life.”

He added, “It is a common perception that whenever there is an accident caused by any hoarding collapse, the outdoor advertising operators are responsible for that. However, I must underline the point that the OOH media operators take necessary precautions to ensure the stability of the structures, whereas when it comes to the political organisations that put up such hoardings and illegal structures, there is no accountability sought from them. Invariably, those putting up such illegal displays on the streets seem to enjoy immunity against any action from the civic administration due to political considerations.”

Kumar felt it was rather unfortunate that the Madras High Court orders had not reined in political activists from putting up illegal displays at will. “At this stage it is important for the OOH industry to communicate to the public that it is not any way responsible for the accident, as terms like hoardings get easily associated with the OOH business,” he added.

According to Venkata Varadarajan, Co-founder, CMO, Urban IQ, the authorities need to exercise more control over these issues which will eventually get things going for the industry.

Illegal hoardings will continue to grow as our cities expand, observed Mohammed Yunus, Head of Operations, CreativeSprout. “It is the nexus between political and flex printing mafia that’s extremely difficult to weed out. It is like riding a two wheeler without a helmet, one knows you can get away with bribing the traffic cop a couple of hundred bucks and without strict laws it is going to be a necessary evil we will have to live with,”Yunus added.

So, will the government authorities be able to bring new regulations on illegal hoardings and curb the menace?

“The advertising industry needs to continually engage with the government authorities and help formulate guidelines in regulating the industry, just like the way no Alcohol or Tobacco advertisements are being shown. We should make sure that the print material is not adversely impacting the environment, erecting hoardings that are not a hindrance for pedestrians. A proactive approach is needed as the industry and the government are two sides of the coin. We have to work together in curbing the illegal hoarding menace,” said Yunus.

According to Kumar, The OOH industry has for long highlighted the fact that the business leadership is seldom consulted when the civic bodies frame the outdoor advertising bylaws. As a result, the advertising norms that get enforced are at variance with the business situation.

“Fortunately, there is seemingly a slight change in the approach of the civic administration, as is evident in the case of Karnataka where the industry has been consulted on the provisions of the new state ad rules that are expected to be released soon. While there is a new set of ad bylaws that have just been approved, and which covers formats like BQS and gantries, the new ad rules will determine the provisions for large format advertising in the city, which will allow for hoardings and billboards to be back in business,” said Kumar.

 He added that the draft ad policy to be released by the Chennai Metropolitan Corporation had been hanging fire for many months, and there was no clarity on what are the roadblocks. “On a larger plan, it is imperative for the local urban bodies to get acquainted with the different dimensions of OOH advertising, as well as appreciate the need for embracing DOOH media. When that happens, the ad policies will also be progressive.” Kumar said. “If the local urban bodies are not willing to get to the nuts and bolts of OOH advertising while framing the policies within their jurisdiction, it is necessary that the Indian OOH industry undertakes steps for policy advocacy in the interest of the OOH business.”

According to Bhandula, voluntary and responsible efforts by the industry and authorities will help in curbing the menace of illegal hoardings.

 “Once OOH is acknowledged by the government as an industry it will have its place, stringent rules like we have now for traffic rules  violation can be applied to curb this menace,” he said.

Varadarajan believes that it is the responsibility of the people from the industry to be mindful of what they are paying for versus what the status of that location is which they are booking for their campaigns. 

“As a practice, industry professionals must ask key questions like: is the location under any litigation? Or atleast, keep a tab on which ones are legitimate. They should stop encouraging investments on the locations which are illegal. When that happens, automatically, things will come under control.  Also industry leaders should constantly be on the lookout for other cheaper and more data-driven options like the DOOH formats which come at much lesser price and add great value to the campaign in terms of metrics and imagery. And unlike static signage, DOOH screens license can be easily tracked by government authorities,” Varadarajan added.

“Just like the real estate industry treaded into illegal terrain because the regulators and enforcers in some cities preferred to turn a blind eye to the ground realities, in the OOH space too illegal structures came up only because certain officials had apparently operated hand in glove with the violators. So, while the media operators putting up illegal structures need to brought to book, it is equally necessary that those in charge of monitoring the media landscape are also held accountable for the illegal business,” observed Kumar. “Secondly, there is a need for a common code applied at the national level when it comes to OOH advertising. Today, each urban local body prefers to enforce its own bylaws that are not benchmarked to any gold standard. In the absence of a uniform regulatory environment, outdoor advertising businesses in certain smaller markets are operating below the radar, but they are bringing disrepute to the industry.”


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