Like spitting in public, noise pollution will have to be stopped by public will more than fear of the law, writes Gajanan Khergamker
It was on spirited activist Sumaira Abdulali’s complaint that information regarding tests carried out on firecrackers for hazardous chemical content and noise levels by agencies authorised by the MoEF should be disclosed on the official website under Section 4 of the RTI Act that the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed the ministry of environment and forests to publish reports of all commissions and special panels on its website within a month of receiving them.
The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) was also asked to display noise levels of firecrackers on its website.
In October 1999, an amendment was made in the Environment (Protection) Rules 1986, whereby the definition of noise pollution was amended. Further, the manufacture, sale and use of firecrackers generating noise levels exceeding 125dB (AL) or 145dB (C) was banned. The Department of Explosives under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce is empowered to regulate the grant of licences to manufacturers of explosives.
"PESO may consider loading the information about noise testing of firecrackers on its website in accordance with Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005 for public disclosure of information with respect to sampling and testing of firecrackers for noise norms," stated the letter sent by the chief public information officer of the ministry to the chief controller of explosives, PESO.
"Seven years have passed since the Supreme Court (SC) order dated 18th July 2005 that noise levels be measured and put in the public domain. If the tests are carried out and results obtained, they should have been made public by now," said Abdulali in a sharp observation of a situation that seemed to defy logic. The state had clearly failed to comply. "In 2010, the police drafted the firecracker rules, but the state is yet to implement them. It looks like nobody is interested in monitoring the noise levels," she added.
In what seems like a rush job aimed to earn brownie points with the city’s affluent, aware and active, Mumbai’s civic body is known to issue directives declaring sections of the city as ‘Silent Zones’.
For a colossal metropolis like Mumbai where commuting through a sea of bumper-to-bumper traffic is the only way to reach office and back home for its road commuters, noise is sadly an inevitable derivative.
In the absence of disciplined behaviour, the law is useful in developing public opinion as well as social patterns which are an inevitable spin-off.
However, the law, in itself is only a code that cannot be followed strictly in a democratic setting where Public Will rules the roost.
The public need to be disciplined through communication, debate and non-legal methods. Forcing them to concede or acquiesce to situations against their democratic will always fails.
Without provocation or situational need, drivers across the nation – right from New Delhi to Mumbai, Kolkata to Ahmedabad even down south in Bangalore – in trying situations of traffic snarls and snags are known to honk, holler and harass just anyone available at that point of time.
Irrespective of the time of the day or night and equally oblivious to public sentiments, car-owners let loose horrendous sounds of children wailing, girls screeching, donkeys braying and so on and forth to announce they’re reversing their vehicles.
And, till they manage to manoeuvre in and out from space-crunched situations, their tunes continue to bellow…at deafening pitches too.
Now, in the Rabin Mukherjee and others V/S State of West Bengal and others case (AIR 1985), an application for a Writ of Mandamus was filed in the Supreme Court by the petitioners for an order directing the Respondents to enforce the provisions of Rule 114 of the Bengal Motor Vehicles Rules containing restrictions against the use of electric and air horns which were creating noise pollution which was having an adverse effect on public health. The Supreme Court held that noise pollution arising from the use of loud horns, in violation of the Rule, is injurious to health and was among different causes of environmental pollution.
It directed the State Authorities to issue notifications immediately regarding the restrictions contained in the Rule and direct the removal of electric or air horns which create a loud or shrill sound, and to ensure that no fitness certificate is granted to vehicles in the case of non compliance with the Rule.
Fine on paper but then it didn’t quite stop your pesky neighbour from “backing up” his fave ‘Fronti’ in the middle of a silent night playing an eardrum-splitting electronic ‘child’s wail’ to announce his arrival.
“The law’s well in place but you need to register a complaint with the local police first,” offers advocate Maitreyee Gaitonde who adds, “them actually doing their bit in controlling the felon is another issue altogether.”
More often than not, the police are known to be soft and sympathetic towards the offenders as they usually are swayed by religious or social reasons. “There are times when I have called the local police several times only to be told I should be tolerant towards others and that in a bit of time, the noise would automatically stop,” says home-maker and teacher 26-year-old Bhairavi Satpal.
Like most other nuisance such as spitting in public, noise pollution has to stop by Public Will more than by fear of the law. Nuisance, whether public or private, remains a nuisance.
And, here, it isn’t just a case of nuisance. It’s a case of pollution that has been documented even legally to wreak havoc to one’s medical condition, state of mind and, more importantly, the credibility of a state’s stand on its people’s health.
During festivals, celebrate with care
The regular offenders remain festivals and the revelry associated. Whether it’s Holi, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, the noise that is produced by electronic instruments and musical works can be loud and jarring for most.
Promptly call the police in such cases at the very onset and don’t be anonymous. You are just playing into the hands of the authorities by making anonymous complaints as there’s little you can do by way of following up on action or the lack of it. Providing your name and complete address should be accompanied with taking down the concerned officer’s name and designation so that you can follow up with a senior in case of inaction.
One-time revelry in case of wedding processions, publicly-held birthday bashes, religious or political parades are painful reminders of the lack of public will in following the law. However, move to the venue and intervene in person with a request to turn down the volume.
Usually, such revelers aren’t being faced with any opposition especially from members of the public which is why the felon goes on unfettered. During Diwali and Holi, the festivities include noisy fire-crackers being burst with accompanying loud laughter and cacophony without a care for the neighbourhood’s elderly or mute.
The price we pay for noise pollution
Campaigners fight noise
Noise near a silence zone
Traffic noise in India
crackers on Diwali
Ganesh visarjan at Juhu
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