Metro matters: Time, Delhi made some noise about fighting noise pollution
Experts say much of Delhi’s deafening din emanates from the fleet of 10 million vehicles. In most monitoring stations across Delhi, decibel levels exceed the permissible limits any time of the day.columns Updated: Jan 15, 2018 12:46 IST
Living a lane away from Delhi’s busiest artery – the Ring Road – my biggest worries should be the vehicular fumes that float into my house, shooting up the ambient Air Quality Index (AQI) that the city residents are now so obsessed about.
But even before I get the “nearest station AQI” notification on my mobile phone every morning, I am already awake from the traffic noise. One can perhaps get used to the dull noise of vehicular movement. But how does one cope with the shrillness of incessant honking, even in the middle of the night?
The problem is not peculiar to my neighbourhood. Nearly half of Delhi’s population lives within 500 metres from arterial roads with traffic spilling to internal lanes. There is no recent source appropriation study for noise pollution, but experts say much of Delhi’s deafening din emanates from the fleet of 10 million vehicles in a city of 17 million people. In most monitoring stations across Delhi, decibel levels exceed the permissible limits any time of the day.
We suffer the onslaught without realising that noise causes physical harm. The World Health Organisation says that prolonged exposure to sound above 80 decibels can interfere with immune systems, boost stress hormones, contributes to cardiovascular maladies and damages hearing.
A study by Mimi Hearing Technologies and Charite University Hospital in Berlin last year found that Delhi is only second to China’s Guangzhou in terms of the degree of hearing loss suffered by citizens in proportion to their age. Cities least afflicted by noise pollution, namely Zurich, Vienna, Oslo and Munich, registered the lowest levels of decline in hearing.
The researchers, using data on 2,00,000 people from 50 cities drawn from a hearing test administered via mobile phones, concluded that noise pollution and hearing loss had a tight correlation.
Honking is banned in India at intersections and near temples, schools and hospitals. But the rule is flouted routinely. The offenders cannot be penalised because traffic police, the prosecuting agency, do not have sound measuring machines. It anyway does not matter since the fine is as low as Rs 100.
At 100-110 decibels, blaring car horns are comparable with a rock concert or a running jet engine. There is little policing on motorcyclists who customise silencers, or break them, to create the revved-up sound effect. The deafening pressure and multi-toned horns continue to be used by heavy vehicles despite a Supreme Court ban.
Eleven years ago, the Master Plan for Delhi red-flagged sound pollution as a pressing problem. It directed the authorities to prepare an area-wise “traffic-calming scheme” and a noise monitoring and control plan. It also asked for “creation of a green buffer of thin leaf trees, land formations, mounds, embankments” etc along busy roads.
But implementation of these measures has remained a big ask, considering the capital does not have the wherewithal or even the administrative will to tackle the basics.
“Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” said Dr William H. Stewart, former Surgeon General of the United States. Delhi, albeit belatedly, has got a plan to fight the air pollution. Now it badly needs one to bring its noise levels down.
Apart from better enforcement of anti-noise pollution laws — say, against illegal use of loudspeakers and noisy generators — the administration should launch noise mapping drives across the city to draw up local mitigation plans. Sound barriers, for instance,can bring noise levels down by five decibels. But we must now know where all to install them.
However, the bulk of noise pollution can only be controlled by making improvement in traffic management and enforcing better driving habits. Controlling vehicle speed helps since the ones moving below 60 kmph emit least sound.
In a city where continuous honking has become almost the default mode of driving, it is worth remembering that horns were invented to warn other road users or animals of the vehicle’s approach. In all other situations, it is possible to drive without honking. For overtaking or changing lanes, using indicators should suffice.
After all, no matter how much you honk, you cannot make traffic jams disappear. You just end up stressing yourself and your fellow citizens in an already stressful city.