9 May 2021
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Right at the start of this news story we are going to make a confession: We cannot name the brands. You, our reader, have every right to get angry and accuse us of being cowards. But allow us to suggest that in addition to that judgment, you go through this news because of a larger concern. The bigger picture is that the Supreme Court orders on public space advertising are being ignored by powerful brands, advertising companies and ( as Karachi’s DMC South, some of whose officers are involved in the corruption. This concerns the spaces in the city which belong to you, your public spaces, which you deserve to be maintained as green open places. For several years now, a handful of prime locations in the city, especially Clifton and Shahrah-e-Faisal, have become A-one category strips where government officials regularly allow advertising against the rules. The rule is simple: You can’t do it. This emerged two years ago when the Supreme Court passed orders (on Oct 18, 2018) clearly instructing that all types of advertisements on public property are banned. It said public property was defined as roundabouts, green belts, government buildings and footpaths.

Former Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani was photographed in December 2019 when a green belt was covered with cricket material. Credit: Facebook But what happens on the ground is different. Multinational local and international companies and brands have been consistently plastering their advertisements over public spaces. In Clifton, Boat Basin to Clifton Centre, Boat Basin to Bilawal House, Bilawal House to Park Towers (26th Street) and the Hyperstar roundabout are hot favourites. Three Swords and Two Swords are extremely high premium spaces. A senior officer who did not want to be named told SAMAA Digital for example that former Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani issued a no-objection certificate to Nash Advertising Co Ltd to advertise their brands. Nash’s public Facebook page contains all the pictures documenting every public space they put up massive advertising. (We saved screenshots). The green belts were covered with cricket ads from a banking sponsor and even a housing project. At other times it is a mobile phone service provider or shampoo and ice cream. “A senior South DMC officer is involved in granting permission to [a major food app] to run its advertisements on these monuments,” the officer added, referring to Do and Teen Talwar.

A South DMC officer explained how they
went about the business. They make a government advertisement challan for moving
publicity and shop signboards, which are not banned. But then these challans
are used to allow the advertiser to install streamers and banners and other
temporary illuminated structures on green belts.
The officers charge Rs700 per day per banner even though the government rate is
Rs62.50. The black market rate is higher on green belts because of the Supreme
Court ban.

“If any advertiser wishes to advertise his
product through banners at green belts, he cuts a deal with the advertisement
department officers,” the officer explained. “The officers allow the advertiser
to install banners on green belts for hefty bribes and cut deals for a week’s campaign.”

Recently, banners on a green belt from
Glass Tower to Teen Talwar and Do Talwar were reported in which an
advertisement company, AA Panaflex, cut a backdoor deal with DMC South officers
for one week campaign for Rs2.5 million in bribes. The advertiser put up 700 banners
on this strip on Tuesday.

Deputy Commissioner Irshad Ali Sodhar caught
this and ordered them to be removed.

South DMC Director Advertisement Abdul
Ghani told SAMAA Digital that the district municipal teams went to work
cleaning up Clifton’s Lilly Bridge, Metropole Hotel, Teen and Do Talwar, Boat
Basin, Bilawal House and Park Towers. The advertisement company did not pay any
taxes, he said.

AA Panaflex company owner Muhammad Ayub
Atique, who is also the PPP information secretary for PS-102, told SAMAA
Digital that the South DMC Advertisement department accepted the tax which was
paid by his company’s employee. He did not, however, disclose the amount when
asked how much tax he paid.

South DMC Director Advertisement Abdul
Ghani said it is not possible that the department accepted money for banned
installations. The by-laws on advertisements were prepared in January 2019, but
were not approved by the competent authority.

“According to the advertisement bylaws,
wall pasting and sign boards cannot be installed on public property,” he added.
They can, however, be installed on private property with the consent of the
owner of the building. Traditionally, advertisers go around to the owners and
get them to sign consent forms. The building then gets paid to allow for its
walls to be used. This is often why you’ll see billboards covering up one side
of poor flats, blocking their sunlight and air through windows.

There used to be another model by which
the district governments and cantonments farmed out the maintenance of green
belts and roundabouts. A rich company comes along and pledges to pay for the
gardener, water and cleaning. They then used to the space to put up temporary
ads for themselves there after they spruced up the area. This was particularly
rampant outside Gora Qabristan.
In 2007, Asim Jofa adopted Teen Talwar and Do Talwar to improve the monuments.
He did this on following the terms:

As caretaker he would pay a yearly tax of
Rs3.2 million to DMC South’s Parks department and Rs0.7million to DMC South’s Advertisement
department for both monuments. In his case, he repaired the fountains and
lights and had the marble cleaned. He did not plaster the place with his brand,
but did place one cube that had his logo. During the time he was caring for
those roundabouts no other advertising appeared on them. The agreement with the
DMC ran afoul after two years and has been in court for the last seven years.

This approach, to allow companies to adopt
greenbelts, or roundabouts is the local government’s response to its inability
to pay for these spaces.

Abdul Gh Lone