Dr Yeshwant Oke, 78, a physician, has stayed long enough in Mumbai to recount with confidence that two of the city’s favourite festivals – Ganeshotsav and Navratri – were not as noisy in the past as they are today. If the festivals have become less noisy over the past few years, even if marginally so, the city should thank Dr Oke and the fellow doctors and environmentalists who began the city’s anti-noise campaign in 1985.
According to Dr Oke, a group comprising doctors and environmentalists conducted a study on the noise levels in the city during festivals at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) around the mid-80s to shed light on the rise in noise levels.
“The noise levels ranged between 80 and 90 decibel (dB). As doctors, we were concerned about the impact of such high noise levels on public health. The city was transforming with growing traffic further contributing to the increasing noise levels,” said Dr Oke.
The study prompted Dr Oke and other like-minded people including gynaecologist Dr Prabhakar Rao to form the Anti Noise Pollution Committee to increase awareness about the ill-effects of noise.
The committee soon began its crusade against the rising noise levels. Equipped with data from an earlier study, the committee along with the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC) and Saad Ali of the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) filed a writ petition in the Bombay high court (HC) demanding guidelines for noise regulation in 1985.
Subsequently, the HC appointed a committee to study the noise pollution levels in the city and submit a report on its ill-effects. Based on its findings, the committee then submitted a 40-page report. “The report for the first time brought to the fore issues of public loudspeakers and festival celebrations. It created awareness about noise as a pollutant,” said Dr Oke.
However, it was only in 2003, when Sumaira Abdulali, then with BEAG and Dr Oke filed a petition in the Bombay HC and got in place a landmark ruling for demarcating silence zones.
“The court had given several good orders earlier, but none were implemented. The silence zones were demarcated after the HC’s orders. But most importantly, the police began filing complaints against noise pollution,” said Abdulali, convenor, Awaaz Foundation.
Since 2003, Awaaz Foundation has spearheaded the anti-noise campaign with a humble noise meter and deliberations with the state government.
According to Abdulali, taking readings at both Hindu and Muslim festivals are a fair proof for naysayers who think anti-noise activism is against their culture and religion.
“In 2003-04 I got a mosque near my home in Bandra to stop using loudspeakers during their morning prayers,” said Abdulali, adding, “Over the years, people have realised the importance of reducing noise levels.”