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It’s high time we raised our voice against noise pollution

From a variety of heart diseases to high blood pressure and even long­term hearing loss, the impact of noise pollution from bursting of crackers and vehicular traffic is serious.

gurgaon Updated: Nov 20, 2018 13:52 IST
Prerna Bindra
Prerna Bindra
While air pollution has received much public attention, the same can not be said about the rising levels of noise pollution.
While air pollution has received much public attention, the same can not be said about the rising levels of noise pollution. (PTI File )

Diwali just passed by, and while we well know the horrors of pollution it unleashed—the air becoming hazardous, severe and finally catastrophic, reaching well over 40 times the safe limits — another kind of pollution was also unleashed that largely went unnoticed. Perhaps we were too busy celebrating this wonderful festival, or too ill and choking on the smoke to bother, or because the pollution has become so much part of our lives, we didn’t even notice.

I am talking about noise pollution: the horrific, ear-splitting explosions from bombs and other noisy crackers. Of course, it is not just Diwali — I have nothing against the festival— but our other celebrations too have a horrific impact on our health. Noise is a malaise that afflicts most urban cities. However, it is so much a part of our lives that many of us don’t even think of it as noise pollution. It was one of the reasons why I shifted out of Mumbai. I found I couldn’t escape the constant, deafening noise of local trains and traffic. Like many, I lived almost atop a busy road, and there was little let up in traffic, even during night. My nerves were on the edge, while the diesel fumes caused severe, frequent headaches, often impairing my regular functioning. There is nothing out of the ordinary about my affliction. Noise pollution is linked to many ailments, such as heart disease, hypertension, and can lead to debilitating hearing loss.

I had the luxury to move, but it was like moving from the frying pan into the fire. We know Delhi-NCR as one of the world’s most polluted regions. However, few are aware that it is also the capital of noise pollution in the country. A decibel survey conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment showed that Delhi has some of the noisiest roads. A large-scale survey involving over two lakh participants by a Germany-based firm using a mobile app found a 64% positive co-relation between noise and hearing loss. The survey was conducted across various cities—including Delhi and Mumbai and found Delhi to be one of the noisiest. Its citizens had the maximum amount of hearing loss, proportionate to their age.

The standard set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is 50 dB (decibel) for a silence zone and 55 dB for residential areas. However, on a busy street in Delhi-NCR, the noise levels would typically hover around 90-100 dB.

The CPCB has issued guidelines for controlling noise pollution: timings for loudspeakers to be used, the level of noise etc, but there is hardly any monitoring, let alone enforcement. This year the Supreme Court had permitted only certain kind of crackers with low emissions and sound, but this was grossly violated.

We do so at our own risk.

The impact of noise pollution can be serious. I remember a neighbour’s young child having convulsions due to festive or other loud noises. People living on flight paths, and therefore living with the constant noise of planes flying overhead, are more prone to hypertension and various kinds of heart disease. Prolonged exposure to noise above 60 dB can lead to irreversible hearing loss as well.

The suffering of animals is acute. Dogs and other animals are terrified of loud noises, and Diwali is usually a miserable time for them. My dog cowers, scrambles under the bed as soon as the first cracker starts bursting, but he has the luxury of a home. For street animals, loud festivities are a nightmare.

There is a lack of awareness in India about noise pollution, although citizens have taken up the cause. The police in various cities have taken up the issue as well.

The Delhi police’s campaign against honking is ongoing, and this October, 60 stretches were identified as no-honking zones. In April 2018, the Gurugram police marked ‘No Honking Day’, in an effort to raise awareness about ill-effects of noise pollutions and the rules that govern it.

Yet, ultimately everything comes down to us: To raise our voice against noise pollution, to think, not just of ourselves but of our neighbours, human, and non humans before we burst noisy, deafening crackers, be it to celebrate a festival or a function.

In my next column, I will speak about how our noisier world is silencing the sounds of nature.

(Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. She is the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)