2016 was an important year for anti-noise movement in Mumbai, says activist
Sumaira Abdulali, the convener of the Awaaz Foundation that has for years been campaigning to reduce noise pollution in Mumbai, said the courts paved the way for netter enforcement of anti-noise rules.Updated: Dec 23, 2016, 10:03 IST
Diwali, usually the noisiest time of the year, saw Mumbai recording a drop in noise levels compared to the past several years — becoming the only major Indian city to do so. Anti-noise campaigners said greater awareness among citizens about how harmful noise pollution is has helped. Sumaira Abdulali, the convener of the Awaaz Foundation that has for years been campaigning to reduce noise pollution in Mumbai, said the courts paved the way for netter enforcement of anti-noise rules. Several Bombay high court orders in 2016, based on Abdulali’s petitions, have paved the way for stricter implementation of noise rules.
Q. Noise pollution in Mumbai became a primary concern in 2016. What was done over the years to tackle the menace?
A. Noise pollution became a primary concern in 2016 after decades of work by NGOs, citizens and the courts. In 2003, the level of awareness was so low, people — even implementing authorities — laughed at me for choosing noise pollution as a subject to pursue. Over the years, however, the authorities, courts and citizens have become aware of the health hazards caused by noise pollution and have acknowledged the need to implement measures to control noise. Although there were rules and comprehensive orders to reduce noise levels, implementation was lax as people continued to believe noise pollution was not a serious issue. The Noise Pollution Rules, notified in 2000, were based on a World Health Organisation study specifying maximum safe decibel limits and a Bombay high court Committee Report chaired by justice Sujata Manohar, whose members included Saad Ali, Dr Yeshwant Oke and a few city based NGOs. After that, the Supreme Court and various high courts had passed extensive orders, including the landmark SC order of 2000 on religious noise pollution, the Bombay high court order in 2003 on Silence Zones, and in 2010 on urban planning, firecrackers, helipads, and finally, orders this year on a variety of issues including noise mapping and construction noise.
Q. How was 2016 in the fight against noise pollution in Mumbai?
A. This year has been important for the noise pollution movement. We were fortunate to have an extremely responsive bench at the Bombay high court, headed by justice Abhay Oka, who heard 10 public interest litigation petitions and passed crucial final orders. Citizens supported these court orders by working on the ground to ensure their implementation, arming the court with real data and motivating authorities to take action.
Q. How did you get the community involved in creating awareness for authorities to take notice and make the issue a talking point?
A. Thanks to the entire city of Mumbai and public-spirited citizens, including those who took the time to file and pursue public interest litigations or ensured implementation of court orders on the ground. Petitioners Dr Mahesh Bedekar, Santosh Pachlag, Dr Yeshwant Oke, Ashok Ravat and MS Rane have played important roles in identifying and bringing to the notice of the courts the various sources of noise pollution. Pro bono contributions of ad professionals, advocates and senior counsels also made it possible to create awareness and an implementable legal framework. NGOs such as Sanskar India Foundation, Forum for IQOLMS, AGNI, AURED and the Indian Medical Association, as well as newspapers took the awareness campaigns to the masses.
Q. How have the Mumbai police, enforcement authorities and the state government fared in controlling the problem?
A. The Mumbai police and state government have taken various initiatives to implement the Noise Pollution Rules and to create awareness. The Thane and Mumbai police partnered with Awaaz Foundation to create awareness against honking and even fined people who honk unnecessarily. They recently acquired several noise metres and intend to begin measuring decibel levels when necessary. The state assigned various roles to their own departments to control noise and the pollution boards took initiative by measuring noise levels from Diwali firecrackers . The BMC too has initiated a noise-mapping project and is considering integrating it with the Development Plan of Mumbai. The MPCB has been ordered to do a comprehensive noise mapping study of all cities in Maharashtra and government is formulating an action plan to control traffic noise.
Q. Earlier this year, Mumbai police and the Central Pollution Control Board lauded citizens’ movement that led to an overall drop in noise. What role have citizens played in this?
A. Mumbai’s people came forward to take all these campaigns further at the grassroots level. It is to them that the real success of the campaign can be attributed. They have participated in large numbers in the noise pollution campaign, including making numerous complaints to the police control room, creating a citizens’ noise map of Mumbai and using free downloadable applications on their phones to measure noise levels. Their success has been a significant one, leading to the dramatic drop in decibel levels this festival season.