After dillydallying for nearly five years, the Mira Bhayandar Municipal Corporation (MBMC) has finally cracked the whip against out-of-home advertising agencies and private landowners for defaulting in payments towards license fees.
While the pending fees were pegged at Rs 58 lakh in 2015, the amount has now crossed Rs 20 crore. Stung by the mounting arrears and the cold shoulder response to recovery notices, the MBMC’s advertising wing started pulling down the hoardings with the help of JCB’s last week.
“We are into the process of taking possession of the hoardings and initiate recovery proceeding in accordance with the law,” said additional civic chief Dr Sunil Lahane. The action was delayed to disputes raised by agencies claiming astronomical pricing and escalations. Already under the scanner for ignoring audit objections for non-submission of yearly records related to arrears and list of defaulting agencies, the advertising wing had tagged licenses to around 300 hoardings and cantilevers on public and private land.
Apart from permission to private landowners, the MBMC awards advertising rights for installing hoardings at earmarked sites across the twin-city. However, considering the presence of illegal ones, the actual figure could be much higher.
The MBMC not only turned a blind eye towards multi-crore arrears saddled by defaulting advertising agencies but had virtually rolled out a red carpet for them by granting illegal extensions sans mandated price escalations.
It has been alleged that some officials were hand-in-glove with the agencies, allowing them to compromise on safety parameters and facilitate manipulations, thus causing huge revenue losses to the civic exchequer.
In a controversial move, the urban development department of the state government imposed a stay on the ongoing action until further notice, following which the dismantling work came to a grinding halt on Monday. “While several structures have already been pulled down, the action will resume soon,” clarified Dr Lahane.