When this year began, Mumbai was India’s noisiest city. In the eleven months that followed, its people campaigned, its court passed orders and its government acted to shake off this dubious distinction.
By Diwali, two locations — in Andheri and Powai — were named India’s quietest during the festival.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which had named Mumbai the noisiest in February, was now praising the city’s anti-noise campaigners and calling the fight against noise pollution a ‘citizen movement’.
And, Diwali was not the only time the results were seen.
During Ganeshotsav, Mumbai’s noisiest festival, the highest recorded noise level dropped from 123.2 decibels (dB) in 2013 to 116.4 dB in 2016 and Dussehra levels fell from 103.4 db to 98.9db. Janmashtami and the Mahim fair were slightly noisier.
“More than any of the enforcement authorities, the credit has to go to the people of Mumbai for standing up for change and making the city a better place. We only were successful in convincing the people of the need to reduce noise,” said Satish Gavai, principal secretary, state environment department. Gavai added, “The celebration of festivals or even small joys of our daily life has nothing to do with making noise.”
The awareness campaigns aside, a series of court orders ensured the dramatic drop in noise by the end of the year.
In August, a division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Amjad Sayed of the Bombay high court called the failure of law enforcement agencies in implementing noise pollution rules a violation of citizens’ fundamental rights.
After a six-year gap, the court heard and clubbed 10 petitions filed by different activists on noise pollution and issued an exhaustive order to curb all aspects of noise — noise mapping, Silence Zones, noise rules, regulation of firecrackers, noise from traffic and construction and noise during religious festivals and urban planning (see box).
“It (noise) is a shadowy public enemy whose growing menace has increased in the modern age of industrialisation. A health hazard that can damage our hearing and evoke other gynecological and pathological reactions, apart from disturbing our rest, sleep and communication,” read the conclusion of the court order.
The court will even decide action against the government — irked as the state had delaying following an order to procure 1,843 decibel metres within a court-mandated timeframe. The Hc will decide today (December 23) what action it would take against former additional chief secretary of Maharashtra, KP Bakshi, for the 11-month delay by the state government.
The court will also continue monitoring the way government agencies follow its orders.
The governments, both state and Centre, also stepped in.
There were efforts to curb noise from sources such as traffic this year. The Union government took cognisance of noise from honking, after a road transport ministry proposal tabled during the monsoon session of the Parliament, considered imposing a fine of Rs5,000 on vehicle owners installing multi-toned and air horns (both banned under the Motor Vehicles Act), Rs 500 for a first offence for ‘needless and continuous’ honking and Rs1,000 for a second offence.
There are no permissible limits for honking in India, but the average noise level from horns in Mumbai is 110 decibels (dB) – as high as a live rock band.
In Mumbai, the police booked 3,176 offenders for reckless honking and 507 persons for using illegal horns.
“While 1,500 traffic policemen are battling health ailments daily due to noise, this year we observed a better response from the public at large to fight this menace,” said Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner, Mumbai traffic police. “We have broken into a positive cycle to tackle the city’s noise. We will continue our campaigns with citizens and NGOs to mitigate the issue completely.”
Possibly the most positive development is the commitment by both authorities and the citizens to take their anti-noise campaigns to the new year.
Gavai said the state plans to make the new year quieter. “We have already started acquiring decibel metres as per the HC’s order.”
The state has started the exercise of assessing noise across 27 municipal corporations with the help of institutes such as the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B). “These reports will be useful in mapping noise at all locations, integrate them with the city’s development plan and undertake measures to mitigate the problem,” said Gavai.
“The public has understood noise is a substantial factor affecting their health, not only in Mumbai but all over Maharashtra.”
Meanwhile, the CPCB released a final analysis of noise levels at 10 locations in the city. The result? We are no more India’s noisiest. “As compared to other megacities that exceeded standards at all stations, two stations in Mumbai – Powai and Kandivli – are meeting the prescribed standards under the noise rules,” the analysis reads.
“In spite of increase in the number of vehicles, population density and other activities in a city like Mumbai, the people are maintaining noise levels. They deserve appreciation and congratulations. It is very encouraging for the rest of the country and it is a marvelous achievement for the masses,” said D Saha, additional director and scientist, CPCB.