Structuring The Visual Culture Of Our Cities Through Public Policies

Many of our country’s informal practices cannot be asserted to any logical explanation. Even though urbanisation has sprouted with a western dimension at heart – as people, our practices are still culturally motivated. For instance, unlike most countries, we do not limit our celebrations and other festivities to WhatsApp messages; we like to smother our cities with hoardings and banners of people for birth, celebration and death alike. Another amusingly unique practice involves fans bathing their favourite actors’ cut-outs in milk, creating a shrine out of a simple hoarding.

Out-Of-Home (OOH) advertising agencies tend to take advantage of this existing visual culture in our country to promote brands through outdoor media such as billboards, wall scapes and advertising on street furniture. However, these OOH advertisements have constantly been put under scrutiny as their omnipresence in our cities threaten the visual aesthetics and tamper with places of encounter where real public life unfold.


Procurement of primary data regarding the OOH scenario in India was done by interviewing Mr Ram Mohan, an executive at Sign Lab advertising agency Coimbatore. With more than a decade of experience in this field and constant interactions with the local body regarding his firms existing PPP – he had valuable insights that filled the gaps in the secondary data. As a member of IOAA (Indian Outdoor Advertising Agency), his knowledge was not limited to just the Tamilnadu jurisdiction. The secondary data was sourced from Municipal Corporation acts of different cities and other related journals and articles, as mentioned in the bibliography.

Business Model of OOH

(a) Role of Urban Local Bodies in Regulating OOH

Out-of-home(OOH) advertising regulations and guidelines in India are one of the most decentralised systems under the current governance structure. The guidelines differ from state to state in accordance with those developed by the municipal commissioner of that area, giving the urban local bodies (ULB) complete authority over the erection and maintenance of outdoor advertisements.

Though the nuances of the policies differ from state to state, the general guidelines for OOH advertising are outlined by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act 1888.

An applicant must submit a request for authorisation to the local municipal body to install a hoarding. The approval also requires the submission of a site plan showing its placement, the hoarding’s design certified by a structural en- gineer, and a certificate of no objection from the traffic police. The permission is deemed granted if the municipal commissioner does not initiate proceedings for the applicant within 45 days.

The concessionaire fee that the advertising agency (applicant) would be entitled to pay depends on whether the hoarding is in a public or a private space. The private space rent must be negotiated with the landlord while the Mu- nicipal Commissioner fixes the rent for public spaces. The rent is usually levied annually or quarterly, or a fixed percentage of remuneration is charged.

(b) Restrictions under the current regulations

Rules have been laid out by corporations of each state to define different forms of OOH advertisements, guide the municipal commissioner on the proceeding and impose restrictions and penalties regarding the same.

Nevertheless, the essence of the different regulations remain the same – to enrich the urban living conditions. For instance, in the Control of Advertisement and Hoarding Rule 2003 ( BPMC), it has been stated explicitly that “while outdoor advertisements do bring revenue to the city, any city-based policy must be driven by considerations of safe- ty and aesthetics.” – this serves as a form of a nudge to the local bodies that the benefit of the city must be put ahead of any economic gains that they will acquire in the process.

Municipality restrictions regarding OOH include uniformity of alignment, specification of size, and regulations against the obstruction of vision of the sea, sunrise, sunset or building or national significance. The rules even ad- dress the minute details of the illuminance levels of digital OOH adverts that must be maintained.

(c) Public-Private Partnership

An upfront thought that could organically arise at this moment is what form of symbiotic partnership could possibly benefit both the public and the private entity in a sector such as Out-Of-Home Advertising.

Under this interesting model, the concessionaire (advertising agency) must build and maintain the street furniture, for instance, a bus shelter. In return, the agency is granted the rights to collect revenue from the display of adver- tisements on the street furniture built. The agency must also pay a prescribed concession fee to the
municipality. This partnership can be secured by a private firm through the process of public procurement. However, the firm would have to qualify for the eligibility criteria set out by the ULB and the firm with the highest rental bid is awarded the contract. The agencies can then rent out the advertising space to corporates.

Tamilnadu Local Body By laws and recent policies aimed at regulating the OOH sector

The OOH advertisements in the state of Tamilnadu are governed by The Tamil Nadu Urban Local Bodies Licensing of Hoardings and Levy and Collection of Advertisement Tax Rules, 2003. The district collector grants the awarding and renewal of the license, and no person can erect any form of advertisement without this permission.

2008 – Madras highcourt orders the ban of illegal hazardous hoardings in Tamilnadu.
The Madras High Court has also banned the installation of advertisement banners within hundred metres of road junctions and on traffic signs and signals.

2018-2020– A petition was raised against the amendments made to the Tamilnadu Municipal Law fifth amendment act 2018 – the outdoor advertising policy of the state prohibited hoardings in private land and buildings. On March 2020, the Madras High Court ruled in favour, striking down the previous legal provision allowing the installation of hoardings on private property.

While the ban on illegal hoardings aims to reduce the visual pollution caused by the increasing OOH adverts, allow- ing billboards on private property has only increased the number of potential players in the industry – almost nullifying the previously levied restrictions.

Possible Regulatory Solutions

The chaos of these hoardings in Indian cities has grown so out of bounds that residents in Chennai had to file a plea asking the local civic body to remove political party banners erected right in front of their houses (Hindustan Times, 2017). While complete digitisation seems like the most viable solution, for a paper-bound country like India, it would be hard for the people to culturally move against this inertia and for the government to allot those kinds of funds.

The next apparent solution would be for the municipality to offer alternate spaces for OOH advertisements so that they do not clutter the cities. For example, policies that encourage advertisers to move indoors could be placed where banners and other media are set up inside commercial buildings, metros and petrol pumps instead of being bestrewed on the road.

A district collector who already has his hands full might feel less incentivised to take action against the problem of unregulated hoardings. Hence an urban planning committee specific to the regulation of OOH could be set up to

survey a particular jurisdiction and mark spaces where billboards can be constructed. This makes identifying illegal hoardings a more straightforward process as well.

The installation of cut-outs of people cannot be banned in India, considering its cultural implications. However, the municipalities can set up digital outdoor advertisement screens with provisions that allow common people or political parties to project their banners for a specific time frame. Alternatively, the functioning of these screens can fur- ther be sublet to private advertising agencies using the PPP model.

As far as OOH advertising on private property is concerned – the better policy would be to ban this to have better monitory control over the sector until it is completely regulated. The second policy option would be to mandate construction necessities and bring in more stringent eligibility criteria for private owners who wish to install hoardings on their property.

Since the urban local body is empowered with complete control over OOH advertising for their municipality – there is a higher chance of rent-seeking tendencies among the officials. This stands to reason why there are repeated or- ders and regulatory measures. However, they often go in vain as the local officers are found collecting bribes from corporates in return, allowing more hoardings to be set up outdoors. Hence, standardising the OOH laws at the central level and creating a central board to overlook the OOH advertising scenario could help better implement these policies.


Jha, R. (2022, October 9). Advertisement hoardings in Indian cities. Observe Research Foundation . https://

Section 328 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 – Indian Act / Law / Statute / Kanoon – LawyerServices. (n.d.). LawyerServices – The LegalTech Ecosystem – Litigation, Pre-Litigation, Notices, Intellectual Property, Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents, Research, Legal Tools, Judgements, Acts, Compliance, Contracts, Lega- Trace – Trace Legal Info across India. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from Municipal-Corporation-Act-1888-SECTION-328-Regulations-as-to-sky- signs#:~:text=(1)%20No%20person%20shall%2C,granted%2C%20unless%20prior%20scrutiny%20of


    1. neha sudhakar avatar
      neha sudhakar

      THANKYOU 🙌🏼


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