Air pollution in the Capital has been making news, but what about noise? Even though noise has been regarded as a pollutant as per the Noise Pollution (Regulations and Control) Rules 2000 providing for ambient quality standards when it comes to noise, nothing much has been done on the ground to control it in Delhi-NCR.
Interestingly, the Bombay High Court (HC) recently passed an order for 10 public interest litigation petitions stating the housing and development authorities should include noise pollution in master plans “as a parameter of quality of life to avoid noise menace and to achieve the objective of maintaining the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise.” Mumbai is currently in the process of finalising its 20-year development plan for 2014-2034.
HC ordered noise mapping in all major Maharashtra cities, saying it should be integrated in their development plans. “The purpose of noise mapping is to prepare a map of the city with details of silence zones, residential zones, high construction areas etc in sufficient detail to allow it to serve as a base for strategic planning and development of the city.”
Noise mapping will be useful for detecting high noise levels in problem areas and ensuring schools or hospitals are not built there. It would also help in demarcation of locations as silence zones (areas comprising not less than 100 metres around hospitals, educational institutions and courts).
This is a move in the right direction. Master plans can specify regulations that buildings located close to airports have to follow. Specific sound resistant windows and doors can be used for such buildings. Using noise mapping, locations for banquet halls, schools and hospitals can be identified. In case of integrated townships, clubs, stadia, schools and hospitals should all be planned in the periphery of the township and an adequate buffer created between residential areas, commercial and recreational zones, says Sunil Aggarwal, an urban planner.
The Bombay HC also held that any breach of the Noise Pollution Rules will amount to infringement of fundamental right of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Citizens will also have the right to seek compensation from the state within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India on account of breach of fundamental rights.
The HC also noted that permissions for helipads in the city would have to be granted only after noting of noise levels during movement of helicopters and checking if this would increase noise pollution in Mumbai.
The court banned also firecrackers in silence zones and reserved time for bursting firecrackers in other areas between 10pm and 6am on any day with no exemptions for Diwali. Loudspeakers and public address systems were also not to be used without written permission from authorities under Noise Pollution Rules and all other laws in force. The 15 days on which loudspeakers are to be allowed will be notified in advance by the state government. Bursting crackers in a closed space such as an auditorium will be allowed if decibel levels do not exceed permissible levels.
Citizens will have a right to seek compensation from the state government for breach of Noise Pollution Rules under Article 21. The court also suggested that toll free numbers be set up and anonymous complaints entertained and that police suspend loudspeaker licenses when complaints are received. No future permissions will also be granted to those violating conditions of permissions. The state government can take action against departments and officers who do not effectively implement the noise pollution rules.
As for penalty, the court ordered that violation of rules will be punishable by imprisonment which may extend to five years or with a fine of `1 lakh or both. In case of continuation of contravention for a period of one year after the conviction, the term of imprisonment may extend to seven years.
Chetan Agarwal, an environment analyst, says that the state authority or the local municipalities must create an app with a GPS to point the location, click a picture and measure decibel levels. Individuals wanting to perform in a concert should apply for permissions using this app and clearly state the type of equipment they plan to use and declare that they will abide by the noise pollution norms. The app should also be able to reject applications from organisations or individuals violating rules in the past and maintaining records of permissions granted and rejected. The local pollution control board office or the authority should get quality noise meters installed.