LAHORE - As only a month is left before wrapping up the current fiscal year, the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) has suffered a loss of around Rs 600 million in revenue from the billboards fee due to row with Punjab Out-door Advertising Association (POAA) continuing till the date. During the last financial year, the PHA collected Rs 350 million revenue through out-door publicity fees. In the current financial year, it had planned to collect Rs 750 million in the head. However, it could manage to generate near about Rs 150 million only through selling the sites of underpasses, steamers, polls and other static media excluding the billboards due to the tussle. Sources in the PHA revealed that as the POAA got a stay order from the Supreme Court against the new billboard policy announced by the authority, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had constituted a legal committee headed by Lahore Division Commissioner Khusro Pervaiz. The 8-member committee comprising of DG PHA, DG LDA and some members of Punjab Assembly is authorised to review the new billboard policy and issue NOC for the billboards. It may be recalled that the PHA has already won a case against the POAA earlier this year in the Lahore High Court allowing the authority to execute its new policy by removing unwanted billboards throughout the City. Sources said the PHA announced to reduce the billboards from 1100 to just 60 on the 32 roads and planned to auction them at the three-times higher rates. It hoped to generate around Rs 750 million through the billboards only. Thus, authority concerned launched a drive to remove the billboards from different sites by introducing new out-door publicity board policy despite severe resistance by the advertisers and billboard owners. It auctioned 17 billboards by collecting Rs 254 million and banned issuing NOCs to the advertisers and billboard owners warning them that unless all billboards were removed, further NOCs would not be granted. The POAA that opposed the new policy got a stay order from the Supreme Court while most of its members had also taken back their money paid in advance for the auction of billboards. The stay order by the apex court not only halted the PHA campaign to clear the landscape in the City from unwanted and ugly billboards but also stop the enforcement of new out-door publicity policy. Under the new billboard policy, apart from reducing the number of billboards to 60, their size has also been cut down from 20/60 feet to 10/25 or 10/30 feet within the limits of the provincial capital. Moreover, instead of off-site, the on-site advertisement in commercial area has been allowed, where on-site advertisement means a company or organisation that have ownership rights of a commercial building could advertise its own products there instead of advertising other companys items through billboards. The new policy also bans all kinds of advertisement in the residential localities. However, with the elimination of ban, advertisement will be allowed only in the commercial areas with specific conditionality. The specification includes boards spilling out of building structure are banned. Billboards will be allowed within the frame of commercial building without marring the beauty of the building as well as surrounding environmental landscape. Minimum size of billboard has been set at 10/20 and maximum at 20/60. Under the policy, there will be constrained advertisement on the roads declared as commercial. No LCDs along the roads except in the commercial areas will be permitted. The basic objectives of the out-door publicity board policy are improvement and maintenance of the special character of the City landscape by keeping the aesthetic beauty intact. The policy also aims to protect the essential aspects of structural and traffic safety, presentation of the cultural and architectural heritage, sanctity of residential areas and beautification of the cityscape. However, POAA disliked the new regulations arguing that the around 211 out-door advertisers in the City employ around 3,200 persons and an additional 5000 plus contract employees, and that thousands of families would be at risk if anything rash was done. The POAA office-bearers have termed the policy as blunt to the advertising industry and say that the out-door advertising was the only industry in the country, paying advance tax of Rs 3 billion per annum throughout the province. They said it would result in unemployment of some 125,000 people in Punjab. When contacted, Mustafa Kamal, Chairman Chief Ministers Task Force on Horticulture and Parks, replied, We prioritise public safety first. About the unemployment of over 125,000 people, he said hundreds of thousands of people were attached with the kite flying industry. But when the industry posed a threat for the citizens the government imposed a ban to protect the masses and it was the case with the out-door advertisement as it had become a continuing danger, he added. He said the major cities around the world had removed billboards as they were causing traffic hindrance and pollution besides ruining the beauty as well. He said PHA held a meeting with the POAA in June last year and decided unanimously that the POAA would cleanse the City from all kinds of billboards till June 30, 2008. Afterwards the PHA will initiate the process of auctioning for selected sites for billboards. However, the POAA approached different courts and got stay orders over the removal of billboards due to which the Punjab government had to halt the process of issuing the NOCs for new billboards, he added.