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The paper trail

Last updated on May 17, 2019

The practice of defacing walls with posters and graffiti is on the decline in Delhi, but there have still been over a lakh violations in this election season

Only white strips of paper with a few letters in blue remain on the wall. On some, the names and faces who promise to serve the people if victorious are distinguishable.

Over the years, the use of posters during elections may have gone down — due to the advent of social media and also stricter checks — but campaigners have not moved on to a paperless world.

As Delhi voted in the 6th phase of Lok Sabha elections, a lot of paper was utilised. Most of which was in the form of pamphlets being handed over to voters as politicians did their rounds.

One can still see posters stuck on walls. One such wall which shows leftovers from the battle is on the same street as the BJP headquarters. In the jhuggi settlement which Hema calls home, walls are covered with the remnants of campaigning. She says party workers stick up posters mostly under cover of darkness and by morning, authorities are quick to detect and remove them. This time the checks were more persistent, she says, unlike previous years.

Down the same road, the party fighting to hold onto the Centre has its name painted directly on the wall. Its symbol — the lotus — is still discernible, despite efforts to paint it over.

A person working with the NDMC says that the cases of people vandalising walls has come down due to more security cameras on the streets. “They know they will be detected”, he says.

However, the numbers are still huge. The total number of violations since the enforcement of Model Code of Conduct for South DMC alone is at 1,67,780. In the South zone, the total number of posters/ banners/ hoarding removed as on May 10 was at 20,899, a day later they removed a further 36. The largest number of violations was from Najafgarh with a total of 69,733 removed till May 10. The next day, May 11, saw a further 358 removed.

Central zone saw 59,210 till May 10 and the next day a whopping 1,016 violations removed. Lastly West zone saw 16,489 posters, banners and hoardings removed. The next day authorities saw to 39 such violations.

From MCD North, an official told us that cases of people unlawfully pasting posters and dirtying the walls of the city was not just exclusively during elections. “Before festivals like Holi, Diwali, we would see a lot of posters but now the numbers have come down”. This, he says, is because people have found a better alternative than breaking the law, “People use flex boards which they can set up anywhere”, he says, adding that the numbers of posters have come down in the past 7-8 years.

Hema’s son, a 9th grader, does not agree. “Even in 2014 and then 2015 elections we saw a lot of posters. Only this time has it come down”, he said.

A senior official with the MCD North believes it’s because of social media that numbers of posters for political parties have come down this time round. But unlike national elections or even during Assembly elections, the official says what’s worse are the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections.

“They make a lot of mess. There are student wings of parties like BJP’s ABVP and Congress’ NSUI, who can change this tradition”, this he says will not just help the city but also the candidates: “they will get good media coverage, as they will be doing something positive, but every year it’s the same”, he added.

For national parties, though things are different, “now they try and reach the maximum people with huge hoardings”, which can be seen on main roads, and metros which take lakhs of people every day. He admitted that cases of violations do come, “if a national party defies rules then of course students are very likely to do so”.

In 2017, the National Green Tribunal had directed Delhi University to ensure no posters are put up on the walls of its premises, it also asked them to fine violators with Rs 5000.

It even warned the students that they may face rustication if found pasting posters on campus walls or distributing pamphlets ahead of the elections.

Then in 2018, the Delhi High Court had warned students against defacement of public property or else face jail time. These warnings may have helped decrease the desecration of walls to a certain extent.

The MCD North official however, pointed to some restraint that the authorities have to show. “When we find these violations, we go after the beneficiary”, but with the current situation, he says, where parties play the blame game when violations take place, it is hard to judge who did it. “What if to get the other in trouble the rivals plant the posters or pamphlets”?  This new predicament is unusual and disconcerting.

Regarding MCD South, press information officer Radhakrishnan told Patriot that the reason why the use of posters was coming down in their territory was not because of social media but simply because of stricter implementation of laws. “Our men are always on the lookout for such violations,” he claimed.

The law

Section 143 of DMC Act: “Whenever any advertisement is displayed in contravention of Section 143 of the DMC Act, the same is actionable as per provisions of Section 146 and 461 of the DMC Act. The MCD has the authority to either give direction to the owner of property to dismantle, remove, spoil, deface or screen any unauthorised and illegal advertisement or MCD itself can take similar action.”