It is a very common scene in India to find posters and banners splattered across the walls, buildings houses, buses etc. Often we see these posted on places not meant to host them. Public places like parks, bus/railway/metro stations, colleges, government buildings are the most common targets of these unwarranted posters. Owing to this, the States have local advertisement laws and by-laws and municipal Acts which prevent and penalise defacement of public property by putting up posters and banners.
It has also been categorically held in various cases that putting up of posters/banners hampers the right to a hygienic environment which is an integral facet of healthy life. The right to live in a humane and healthy environment is violated by the illegalities committed by the people who put up such posters/banners on public and private properties.
The Supreme Court (SC) has also held in its various judgement that as posters should be regulated for both public and private properties since public life is affected under both the circumstances. The Delhi High Court too, in one of its judgments, held that for putting up unlicensed posters and banners, no parallel can be drawn with the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The earliest laws in this regard are the West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976 which defines defacement of property as interfering with the appearance of any erection in any manner whatsoever. The Act penalises such interference with a punishment of imprisonment up to 6 months or a fine of Rs. 1000 or both.
This Act was also extended to the NCT of Delhi in 1983 until its own advertisement law came up in 2008. Apart from the aforementioned 1976 Act, the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 2007 was passed by the Government of NCT of Delhi in 2008 and lays down stricter punishment for defacement of property.
Under the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 2007, the punishment for defacing property is an imprisonment up to a period of one year or a fine up to Rs. 50, 000 or both.
Under West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976, the punishment for defacement only done by writing or marking with ink, chalk or paint or any other material under Section 3 of the Act entails a maximum punishment of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000.
Putting of banners or posters will not attract the liability of the wrongdoer as the said banner or poster, under normal circumstances, can be removed without affecting the basic structure or appearance of the article on which they are affixed.