License fees cannot be waived even if 
hoardings are advertising civic messages: BMC tells Bombay High Court

In what can spell trouble for license holders of various hoardings across Mumbai, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has refused to waive off their license fees. The civic body, while relying on various laws and guidelines, told the Bombay High Court that there is no provision for waiving off license fees, even if for some reason, they are unable to use the hoarding sites.

A bench led by Justice Shahrukh Kathawalla was dealing with a clutch of petitions filed by various advertising agencies, holding licences for hoarding sites in Mumbai, seeking waiving of the license fees. The license holders claimed that they are not using their hoarding sites since March, as they have been advertising civic messages and creating awareness pertaining to COVID-19.

In response to the plea, the BMC, through Siddhart Bansode, the joint superintendent of licenses, stated that there was no legal provision for waiving the license fees and that the advertisers cannot claim a right for the same. "There is no provision in any statute, rule, policy or license condition that contemplates that if the license holders are unable to display the advertisement for any reason whatsoever, they will be entitled to waiver of license fees. They have failed to make out any constitutional or legal right for such waiver of license fees," the BMC said in an affidavit.

"Our guidelines specifically contemplate that it is mandatory on part of the agency to display a civic message as and when directed by us for a period of 15 days in a year for which no fees will be payable," the affidavit pointed out.

The civic body further stated that it had issued notices to various such agencies to put up messages to create awareness about COVID-19 in March, when the entire country, and

particularly Mumbai, was grappling with the pandemic.

As far as the contention of the hoarding agencies that they could not use their sites as the messages of BMC were put up is concerned, the civic body said, "Hoardings were required to be displayed for a period of 10 days only and there was no need to give any fresh notice or letter for removal of the same. The agencies are intentionally misreading our notice. The notice does not contemplate that any further instructions would be issued for removing the hoardings," Bansode said in his affidavit.

"In the past also, we have asked these agencies to put up civic messages for a particular period and no fresh notice for removal was given. The civic messages are removed by the agencies on their own accord after the expiry of the period specified in the notice," he added.

The affidavit further trashed the contention that the agencies could not remove the hoardings in view of the lockdown, stating that special arrangements were made to put up the civic messages, similar could be done to remove the same.

The BMC further pointed out that it had waived license fees for the month of April, which totalled to nearly Rs 7.49 crores and that the civic body itself incurred a loss of nearly Rs 70 lakh.

"The commercial arrangements between the private advertisers and the licensees are not within our scope and ambit. We are in no way responsible for any such breakdown in the commercial relationship of the licensees and the same cannot be a ground for a grant of waiver of license fees without any legal or statutory basis for the same," the BMC said while urging the bench to dismiss the plea.

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