Municipality in tug of war with GHQ over ‘illegal’ billboards

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  • GHQ says billboards not illegal under GHQ laws whereas MCI says hoardings are in violation of CDA’s by-laws

ISLAMABAD: A tug of war has ensued between the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) and General Headquarters (GHQ) of Pakistan Army over the installation of billboards within the territorial limit of GHQ soon after MCI asked the GHQ authorities to remove the ‘illegal’ billboards or face legal action.

The MCI informed the General Headquarter (GHQ) that it had installed the billboards without any prior approval a year ago. However, the army officials responded that “GHQ does not fall under the municipal laws”.

However, according to the agreement between the advertisement agency and GHQ authorities available with Pakistan Today, the Defence Complex Islamabad (DCI) is getting Rs9 million from three billboards monthly in advance, amounting to Rs108 million yearly.

It was also stated in the agreement that the advertisement agency should follow the Capital Development Authority (CDA) by-laws of advertisement, contrary to the GHQ’s written reply that the land used for the installation of these boards falls in GHQ territory; hence it does not fall under the CDA’s jurisdiction.

The billboards have been installed in GHQ but they are facing Margalla Road.

The CDA does not charge private owners for the installation of billboards but for the viewership the billboards receive through the land granted by the authority.

According to the documents available with Pakistan Today, the MCI had issued a number of notices to the GHQ’s director general, and also brought the matter into the knowledge of senior army authorities.

The MCI authorities also apprised the GHQ officials about the penalty of Rs1,000 per square foot of illegal advertisement, including the punishment of a six-month imprisonment.

However, on August 24, 2017, an official of GHQ, Fazal Haq replied to MCI’s repeated notices: “It is reiterated that the mentioned hoardings [billboards] have been installed within the jurisdiction of army land with proper approval of the competent authority GHQ in line with SOP…. It is clarified that Defence Complex Islamabad (DCI) is developed, maintained, and governed by Pakistan Army, hence does not fall under the municipal limits/by-laws [of CDA, MCI and ICT]…. Hoardings were installed to generate funds to be used for the welfare of troops. You [officials concerned of DMA] are advised to avoid further correspondence on the [said] subject with this headquarter [GHQ].”

Earlier, two residents, Irtaza Malik Awan and Gulrukh Tausif, had lodged their complaints with the MCI against the billboards.

“I want to lodge a strong protest against the placement of massive billboards on Margalla Road. They [billboards] are not only an eyesore: They also block the panoramic view of the hills, which make Islamabad famous for its beauty. They are also very distracting as they are installed on a very accident prone turn……… Please remove these billboards so that people can enjoy an unhindered view of beautiful Margalla Hills,” stated complaint of Gulrukh Tausif.

Whereas, Irtaza said, “Ugly billboards have been installed on Margalla Road. Their billboards are located within the barbed wire fencing of land allocated for future GHQ. Is the army allowed to conduct commercial activities?”

Subsequently, a meeting was held between the DMA and GHQ’s Colonel Azmat regarding the billboards of different sizes installed at E-10 area. In the meeting, the army official was briefed by the MCI about the by-laws and control of advertisement regulations of Islamabad.

He was also informed that these billboards are illegal and a notice dated October 21, 2016, was already dispatched to the GHQ regarding their removal, but to no avail.

The GHQ authorities were also told that the Pakistan Navy had also allowed installation of billboards, which were then removed on MCI’s request as they were in violation of the by-laws.

When contacted, Mayor cum CDA Chairman Sheikh Anser Aziz did not comment on the matter. However, DMA Director Ali Sufian admitted that the aforementioned billboards are illegal and should be removed by the GHQ itself, otherwise DMA will be compelled to take action.