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Noise pollution! How it can harm the economy

Last updated on: January 4, 2011 08:20 IST

Noise pollution! How it can harm the economy

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Sanjaya Baru


The hills are alive with the sound of 9 per cent growth! If you are seeking peace and quiet, don't go to the Himalayas or the Ghats.

Chances are your neighbours have already got there with cars honking and music booming. The meditating rishi has fled. Rambha has won!

Noise pollution is making India a terrible place to be in. From big cities to small, the spread of electricity, prosperity, the upward mobility of newly enriched and assertive social groups and an utter disregard for the welfare of others are making not just urban life, but even semi-urban and small town life audibly intolerable.

The sounds of celebration, of transportation and construction are all magnified by the sounds of social assertion. This cuts across religious communities, with Hindus and Muslims using loudspeakers to reach out to believers and non-believers.

It cuts across social classes, with the lower middle class blaring music as loudly as the nouveau riche. The quietest today are the old rich and the traditionally poor. Everyone else honks.

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There is a law against all this. And, it is exactly a decade old. In February 2000, the Union ministry for environment and forests enacted the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules.

The Act begins with the recognition that there is 'increasing ambient noise levels in public places from various sources, inter alia, industrial activity, construction activity, generator sets, loudspeakers, public address systems, music systems, vehicular horns and other mechanical devices' and states that these have 'deleterious effects on human health and the psychological well-being of the people'.

Consequently, the government considered it 'necessary to regulate and control noise producing and generating sources with the objective of maintaining the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise'.

The law empowers the local police station officer to take action whenever complaints are received. It is, however, not often that a disaffected person suffering the consequence of noise pollution feels sufficiently compelled to approach a local police station.

Often such disturbance may happen at a time of day or night when most people, especially senior citizens, do not feel sufficiently confident to approach a local police station and expect friendly and supportive response.

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As a result, most people either choose to live with the problem, or use neighbourhood pressure to seek redressal.

Such neighbourhood pressure would not work if the source of noise pollution is a community event, a religious event or an event sufficiently large for the mobilisation of a few disaffected neighbours to make any difference.

Afraid to approach the police and unable to assert social pressure, most individuals suffer noise in silence.

This form of noise -- coming from loudspeakers, workplaces and so on -- can be termed 'organised noise', against which individuals find themselves helpless in seeking redressal, even though law protects them.

There is, however, another equally important, if more insidious, source of noise which may be called 'unorganised noise'. This comes from badly functioning equipment, construction work, habitual honking, talking loudly in public places and the use of a range of household gadgets in crowded apartments.

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An increasing number of Indians, rich and poor, are victims of such noise pollution. There is rarely, if ever, an escape from such ubiquitous noise pollution.

The law does cover some of the sources of 'unorganised noise' but an individual's ability to make use of that law is limited.

If a vehicle behind you is constantly honking, or your neighbour is using a food mixie, chances are you get irritated but can do very little about it, even though the noise pollution law, as cited above, covers noise emanating from all 'mechanical devices'.

Just as air pollution is increasingly being controlled by the ban on technology that pollutes, noise pollution too can be contained to an extent by better regulation of technology.

Loud horns for motor vehicles can be banned and the law implemented as strictly as air pollution norms are being implemented.

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Loudspeakers of a certain wattage can simply be banned, at the stage of manufacturing and sale, rather than just use. Construction equipment in public places must get noise level certification.

If there is adequate public mobilisation against noise pollution, as there has been over the past decade against air pollution, authorities will be forced to act.

While laws are useful and law enforcers are required, there is really no lasting solution to noise pollution other than social pressure and education.

The media can play a big role, as it has indeed done in the case of a range of environmental issues, to increase public awareness and exert pressure on authorities to implement the existing law.

Equally, public and governmental pressure should be brought on manufacturers of noisy vehicles, machines, equipment and so on to adhere to noise emission norms.

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In a crowded country like India where people live in close proximity, and urban and semi-urban space is getting overcrowded, noise pollution is emerging as a major threat not just to individual health but also to social harmony and well-being.

This has both economic and social consequences. People who do not sleep well at night, because of noise pollution, cannot be very productive during the day. Nor can they be very amiable. A tired and irritated person is neither efficient nor sociable.

Clearly, the individual disaffection caused by noise pollution can have negative and harmful social and economic consequences.

Time is ripe for a major campaign against noise pollution. Schools and colleges must sensitise students to the hazards of noise pollution as much as they have come to do with respect to air pollution.



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