As this newspaper reported yesterday, the Bombay high court has asked the police to stop a laughter club in Kurla from disturbing residents of the area with their loud show of morning jollity.
We are becoming less tolerant of noise, and this should be so as medical studies have proved that exposure to loud noise can lead to physical and psychological injuries. We are now more sensitive to noise from road and rail traffic, fire crackers, airplanes and loudspeakers, but there is one area where we let our guard slip.
If the source of noise is a religious festival or a shrine, law enforcers prefer to turn their ears away. Dr Prabhakar Rao, a retired gynaecologist in Andheri has experienced this bias. For the past two years, Rao has been complaining to the police about noise from a loudspeaker installed on the upper floors of a religious shrine in a slum next to his building on Link Road.
The prayers start at 5am though there is a complete ban on loudspeakers till 6am. The prayers continue throughout the day,” says Rao who is part of the group Association of Medical Consultants that has been campaigning against noise pollution.
Since police can give only temporary permissions for loudspeaker use, the Andheri shrine has apparently been violating noise rules blatantly. “The only problem seems to be that nobody wants to take responsibility; there are sufficient number of rules to stop the problem,” Rao adds.
In 2003, anti-noise campaigners Dr YT Oke, Sumaira Abdulali and two groups, including the Association of Medical Consultants, filed a petition in the Bombay high court asking for the demarcation of silent zones in the city. Following an order from the court, the municipal corporation identified areas around educational, medical and religious institutions where noise rules were to be strictly enforced without any concessions.
A few years later, Abdulali filed a ‘notice of motion’ to draw the court’s attention to religious institutions that were violating noise rules. This was because the Mumbai police had excluded religious places in their list of institutions exempted from noise rules. The court is yet to pass an order on the ‘notice of motion.’
Recent orders from the Delhi and Karnataka high courts on noise from religious places has created hope among the anti-noise campaigners in Mumbai, says Dr Oke. In Delhi, the court has said that loudspeakers cannot be mounted at a height of more than eight feet from the ground. Also the speakers have to face the shrine and not buildings in the neighbourhood. A temple and a mosque were asked to lower their loudspeakers to a height of less than eight feet from the ground.
Abdulali says that even in Mumbai, there have been instances in Sewri and Powai, where religious places have been stopped from using loudspeakers by the courts. “I think the rules are loud and clear; it is the implementation that is the problem,” she adds. “Even the Supreme Court has said that religion cannot be used as a pretext to break noise rules.”
Rao says it took anti-noise campaigners more than three decades to sensitise people about the harmful effects of excessive noise and to get the government to frame rules regulating the noise menace.
“People associate noise with enjoyment; how can you tell them to reduce it. It will probably take some time before we are completely sensitised to the harm caused by noise. We will have to swallow it till sense prevails,” Rao adds.