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AN APPEAL

Dear Friends, We wish to draw your attention to the following, which we believe, will have a bearing on the health and well-being of us all.

On March 9, 2009, noise pollution control rules were made more stringent by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the amendment of
the Noise Pollution (regulation and control) Rules, 2000. Among other things, the rules now state that “no horn shall be used at night time in silence
zones and residential areas except during a public emergency.” The rules further state that “a loud speaker or a public address system …shall not be
used at night time except in closed premises…or during public emergency.” These amendments sound like music to ears, but experts aver that they
may have little effect on the ever-increasing deafening din that is plaguing many parts of the country. Today, most inhabitants of the Indian cities and
towns are willing to swear that their area is the noisiest. The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from a public interest litigation (PIL) filed
before the Supreme Court, which highlighted the case of a 13-year-old rape victim whose cries for help were drowned out by loudspeakers. Apart
from honking of the vehicles, other key sources of noise pollution include industrial activities, electrical appliances, blaring musical systems,
televisions, public address systems, trains and aeroplanes, and diesel generators. And naturally, it is people living in cities and towns or those
working in factories in rural areas who are the key victims of noise pollution.

Heath effects

Noise pollution can have dangerous consequences. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), “prolonged or excessive exposure to noise, whether in
the community or at work, can cause permanent medical conditions such as hypertension and ischaemic heart disease (blood supply to the heart
muscles gets reduced). Noise level above 80 decibels (common in many parts of India) may lead to aggressive behaviour. The WHO has also linked
noise pollution with mental health problems. A study conducted at AIIMS shows that about 1 per cent of the Indian population suffers from noise-
induced pollution. As per the study, exposure to noise pollution exceeding 75 decibels for more than eight hours daily over a long period of time
can cause loss of hearing due to the destruction of the sensitive nerve fibres and hair cells of the inner ear . The hazard increases with intensity and
the period of exposure. Noise pollution may not affect a person instantly. But it acts as a slow poison, affecting a person both physically and mentally.
Exposure to sound causes, insomnia, depression, sleeping disorders, increases blood pressure, headache and tiredness. Excessive exposure to
sound for a very long period of time may cause deafness and cardio vascular diseases. Noise pollution disturbs the communication and reduces
performance at schools or at work. It also reduces our energy to work. The sound produced by a bursting cracker, if exceeding 150 decibels, can
impair hearing permanently. Noise pollution may also cause nausea, vomiting, pain and high blood pressure. A survey of more than 1,000 people in
Kolkata reveals that 28 per cent study subjects suffered from hypertension and irritability caused by traffic noises. Another study by the Chennai-
based Post-graduate School of Basic Medical Sciences confirms that in 50 per cent of the industries, workers exposed to higher intensities of sound
are short-tempered, with tendency to even disrupt production. Noise pollution also impacts other life forms. One of the best known cases of damage
caused by noise pollution is the death of certain species of beached whales, brought on by the loud sound of military sonars. This shows that noise
pollution is potent enough to alter a population’s evolutionary trajectory.

The noise levels in our cities

As per the laws, noise levels in residential areas should not exceed 55 decibels (see box: Permitted noise pollution levels in India). In Delhi, the hub
of policy-making and governance, the norms are openly flouted. A research by Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute
(NEERI) reveals that noise levels in residential, commercial and industrial areas and silence zones of city and priority towns of the national capital
region (NCR) far exceed the standards prescribed by the New Delhi-based Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The average noise level in Delhi
was found to be 80 decibels, much in excess of recommended 55 decibels. Such flouting of norms is also a norm in other parts of the country. People
even fail to respect the silence zone law, which states that in areas within 100 metres of hospitals, educational institutes and courts noise pollution
levels should not exceed beyond 45-55 decibels during the day and the night time din level should not be beyond 30-40 decibels. Noise pollution in
Hyderabad is rising alarmingly. According to a study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Hyderabad is ranked second after Chennai in
noise pollution levels.

Is there a way out?

Communities and governments are slow to react to noise pollution because it is difficult to put a social and economic cost to noise pollution in
developing countries. Estimates from a 2002 report by Jacques Lambert of France’s National Institute for Transport and Safety Research show that the
social cost of just road traffic noise is “in the range of 0.1-1.4 per cent of a country’s Gross National Product, depending on the method applied to
calculate and the country.” In India, at present these figures are difficult to corroborate. “Noise pollution is a relatively new concept and very little
data is available. Also there is a lack of enthusiasm to understand its consequences,” says an official at New Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology.

Rules and regulations

Which authority is responsible for curbing the menace of nose pollution and under which law? Noise pollution is a subject that comes under various
ministries ranging from that of surface transport, railways, industry and commerce to environment and forests. The onus of formulating guidelines,
legislations and standards lies with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB); the standards are finally communicated by the CPCB to the Union
Ministry of Environment and Forests notifications. Many rules and regulations aim at curbing noise pollution, including the Indian Penal Code, in
which noise pollution has been included as a nuisance under sections 268 and 290. Noise pollution is also dealt under the Air Pollution
Control Act and The Environment (Protection) Amendment Rules 2003. The Government of India has also enacted The Noise Pollution
(Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, which have even been constantly amended thereafter. Ambient noise standard, notified in 1989, regulate the
noise level of crackers. Likewise, there are a separate set of standards for the noise from petrol or kerosene generators. Noise pollution can be solved
only through people’s efforts. Authorities can educate and introduce laws,