Observing that the State Government has misused its order dated July 15, the Karnataka High Court on Friday recalled and revoked the order by which it had allowed the state government to display hoardings to spread awareness among public on steps for preventing spread of Covid-19, in Bengaluru.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi while revoking the order directed the state government to appoint appropriate officers of higher rank to inquire into conduct of Director of health Department who allowed private entities to put up hoardings, in breach of order of the court. The bench said the inquiry will have to be in respect of appointing a private agency, M/s Wall street communications for display of hoardings. Directing M/s wall street communication to display advertisements of private entities." The inquiry report has to be submitted before the court within six weeks.
The bench has also directed that all hoardings which are erected in terms of order dated July 15 shall be removed within two weeks from today. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is directed to communicate to state government the advertisement tax payable in view of the fact that advertisements of private parties were displayed at instance of state government without payment of tax, within three weeks from today. State government is directed to recover the said amounts from private parties and pay the amount to BBMP.
The state government is also told to disclose by filing an affidavit whether any money was spent to display advertisements either from government funds or from funds of BBMP. Whether any amount was received by the state government from agencies like A-1 gold, and other parties whose advertisements were displayed by M/s wall street communications.
The bench while revoking the order observed "The order of this court was passed in larger public interest. In normal course if these private entities were to display advertisements they would require permission from the Commissioner. They would have been required to pay tax. Thus the order dated July 15, was misused by the state govt. By permitting private parties to display the advertisement though no such permission was granted by this court. These private parties benefited from this order of the court."
It added "It is apparent that state government, (Director of health) has permitted private parties to advertise on hoardings in complete breach of the order of this court dated July 15 and in violation of the KARNATAKA MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS ACT of 1976, especially section 134 and 135, thereof. On the face of it, in view of order dated 15 july, the state government could not have granted permission to third parties to display hoardings, therefore we have no option but to recall and revoke the order."
In July the state government had moved the court seeking permission to put up hoardings in the city to create awareness about Covid-19 among the general public. The bench had allowed the application of the state by imposing conditions.
It had given an undertaking before the court stating that Cotton material will be used for the display hoardings and no prohibited or objectionable material like plastic will be used. Hoardings which are displayed no person will be allowed to advertise any product or any other item and all hoardings displayed under permission granted by the court will contain no other material except material which is required to spread awareness and for giving requisite info by authorities to prevent spread of coronavirus. The hoardings to be displayed will be erected out of funds reserved in the budget of BBMP.
The compliance reports have to be filed by State/BBMP by October 13, when the court will next hear the matter.