Years of sustained campaigns to spread awareness about hazards of noise pollution suffered a setback during the recent Ganeshotsav celebrations, when the state allowed blatant violation of noise norms, feel activists.
This year's celebrations were the noisiest in ten years, with city recording a noise level of 121.4 decibels (dB) - a far cry from the permissible noise levels in residential areas, which is 45db.
The state looked away as traditional Indian music instruments were played past midnight, thereby violating section 5 (2) of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 that bans the use of loudspeakers, public address system and musical instruments at night, except in closed premises (see box for details).
Before the festival, the state had also allowed a relaxation of noise norms, including permitting the use of loudspeakers till 12 am on two days of the festival and permitted use of traditional instruments after midnight on the immersion day, to the dismay of anti-noise activists.
On the last day of the festival, Awaaz Foundation recorded a noise level of 121.4 decibels (dB) at Opera House from a tasha - a metallic hammer beaten on a metallic plate, amplified through speakers. Activists said that Ganesh mandals, backed by politicians, exploited the fact that the government allowed the use of Indian musical instruments and continued celebrations through the night.
"It all started from Pune, where RR Patil allowed withdrawal of cases against 155 Ganesh mandals who had violated noise norms. Later, the chief minister and environment department allowed relaxation of noise deadline in Mumbai and allowed use of Indian musical instruments," said , Sumaira Abdulali, convenor, Awaaz Foundation, who has been monitoring noise during Ganesh Utsav since 2003. Abdulali added, "There was no clarity about time limits and this sent out a message that the law will not come in the way of loud celebrations."
Other activists said that attempts to initiate a dialogue with politicians to curb noise during festivals often fail.
"Ganeshotsav is a time to gain free political mileage. The attitude towards noise norms and rules has become confrontational and this harms not just public health but also the festival's charm," said Dr Mahesh Bedekar, a Thane-based anti-noise activist.
Residents in Navi Mumbai too had a harrowing time. "The sound movement has taken a back seat, minimising efforts by activists to bring down noise levels. This year, politicians misled people into believing that traditional instruments could be played all through the night, which is against the Supreme Court order," said AM Marathe, an anti-noise activist.