Maharashtra wants to abolish Silence Zones; writes to environment ministry for amending noise rules | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Maharashtra wants to abolish Silence Zones; writes to environment ministry for amending noise rules

An official from the Maharashtra government said the request was made in light of the upcoming Ganpati and Dahi Handi celebrations.

mumbai Updated: Jul 21, 2017 09:53 IST
Badri Chatterjee

The Maharashtra government has written to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, asking for the abolition of Silence Zones.

Sources in the state government told HT that in a letter to the Union environment ministry last week, they asked for an amendment to the Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) rules, 2000.

An official, on the condition of anonymity, said the request was made in light of the upcoming Ganpati and Dahi Handi celebrations. “The government is trying to get the Silence Zones condition relaxed. Top officials from the government have written to the secretary of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change, asking them that the clause mandating noise restrictions around hospitals, educational institutes and courts be deleted completely,” the official said.

Silence Zones are defined as areas with a 100-m radius around hospitals, courts, educational or religious institutions, where noise standards are laid down under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986. According to the rules, noise levels at these zones should not exceed 45 decibels (dB) and 40dB during the day and night respectively. The city currently has 1,537 Silence Zones.

Noise rules have been blatantly violated in Mumbai. Last year, noise levels during Ganpati reached 116.4 dB. In 2015, noise levels reached 123.7 dB, which is as high as a thunderclap. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said long-term exposure to noise levels from 85db to 90db could lead to hearing loss.

The Supreme Court (SC) clarified in its order dated October 5, 2005, that no loudspeakers can be used in Silence Zones at any time. The Bombay high court passed a comprehensive order in August 2016 and the state filed an undertaking to the HC that it would ensure loudspeaker permissions are not given in Silence Zones. Last week, the HC warned the state government against any relaxation in noise pollution rules during festivities like Ganpati and Navratri. A division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Vibha Kankanwadi said the state government cannot take “any adverse decision” – decision going against the judgment of the high court that says no loudspeaker or other sound amplifier can be used in a Silence Zone at any hour of the day.

The state government’s demand for the abolition of Silence Zones was criticised by anti-noise campaigners. They said the government had completely overlooked the protection of people’s health. “Noise rules, on its own, cannot be changed and do away with Silence Zones. It is the EPA that needs to be amended and it is a lengthy process,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, NGO Awaaz Foundation. “The rules as well as EPA have been upheld by the Supreme Court (SC) as a constitutional right of the people and an action such as this grossly violates this.”

Up till now, two contempt petitions have been filed by NGOs against the use of loudspeakers in Silence Zones – a recent one against the Mahim police by Awaaz Foundation and another by Hirali Foundation against the Ulhasnagar police.

On May 5, 2010, the Bombay HC had declared Shivaji Park a Silence Zone while hearing a petition filed by Wecom, a residents’ trust. It had said that any violation of the rule will invite stringent action from the state and cited that it was the SC guidelines on noise pollution that prohibits the use of loudspeakers within Silence Zones.

“The central government will not agree to this proposal as all noise pollution rules are based on WHO estimates. Such a request will be out rightly rejected by the Centre,” said Ashok Ravat, Shivaji Park resident and member, Wecom trust.

ACTIVIST SPEAK

Awaaz Foundation receives hundreds of complaints from Mumbaiites regarding noise rule violation at Silence Zones during festivals every year. “Reducing noise had become a people’s movement in Mumbai. To go, not only against the health of people, which is their primary responsibility, but to do this for their own political benefit, does not uphold the principles on which governance takes place,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation.