Noise nuisance: Time we paid heed

Urban India is getting noisier by the hour. Thanks to the developments in technology in almost all the sectors. Generation of noise is invariably a bye – product of all gadgets, machinery, vehicles, aero planes and what have you. Even music, which was once supposed to soothe the human soul, has become noisier. As human beings we have also become noisier than our earlier generations.

We have only to step into a shopping mall, a theatre or a restaurant to experience this truth. We do not have to even stir out of our homes to experience the noise. It is there inside our own homes. The noises from our own family, our neighbourhood, the Radio, TV, AC, fans, the running of home gadgets like washing machines, mixers and even hair dryers are always there, but we hardly get upset by these noises.

I am sure almost all of us would have not only experienced the noise nuisance some time or the other but would have also created such nuisance for the others. Unfortunately, we seem to have got used to the higher noise levels. We are not even conscious of the nuisance and the harm associated with noise. Even the civil society and public authorities seem to be unconcerned about the harmful impacts of noise on our health and wellbeing.

Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB); the unit A-weighted dB (dBA) is used to indicate how humans hear a given sound. Zero dBA is considered the point at which a person begins to hear sound. A soft whisper at 3 feet equals 30 dBA, and a busy freeway at 50 feet is around 80 dBA. Brief exposure to sound levels exceeding 120 dBA without hearing protection may even cause physical pain.

Now, if we want to lay down a particular level of sound intensity for noise, say at 100 dBA and above and make it an offence if some one makes such a noise, then the question will be asked as to for what kind of a person it will be a noise as many persons enjoy very loud music and may even protest against such a move. Moreover, how can we monitor sound intensities at innumerable places at the same time.

Perhaps, that is the most difficult task which has discouraged most of the countries in the world from having any legislation to check the menace of noise. And even countries like the United States, which enacted the Noise Control Act, 1972 could not effectively implement it due to innumerable problems.

There are numerable adverse effects of noise on the human beings like hearing impairment, elevated blood pressure, loss of sleep, increased heart rate, cardiovascular constriction, laboured breathing, and changes in brain chemistry etc.

In its 1999 Guidelines for Community Noise, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared, “Worldwide, noise-induced hearing impairment is the most prevalent irreversible occupational hazard, and it is estimated that 120 million people worldwide have disabling hearing difficulties.”

According to the Guidelines, “these health effects, in turn, can lead to social handicap, reduced productivity, decreased performance in learning, absenteeism in the workplace and school, increased drug use, and accidents.”

Public nuisance
We do not have any regulation or legislation against noise in India except a general section 268 of Indian penal Code which provides that: “A person is guilty of a public nuisance, who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission, which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right.”

A common nuisance is not excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage. We have not heard of any one successfully invoking this provision against the noise makers, though noise is certainly a kind of nuisance.

We cannot control every nuisance through legislation. Perhaps, better education of workers, consumers, businesses and citizens is critical in bringing about better awareness about the harmful effects of noise and through their involvement mitigate them to some extent. However, the government cannot also turn its face away from this problem and needs to do some thing about it.

It needs to have a policy to check the menace of noise and create institutional arrangements to implement the policy. Perhaps, it needs a lot of research effort to create scientific basis for these policies. Surely, the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens by curbing noise pollution. Some of the countries have already developed noise maps of their important cities to help the governments determine their noise pollution policies.

It is time India pays attention to this serious problem and initiates measures to curb the menace of noise. Civil society and media should also play its role in generating awareness among the public which will ultimately force the government to take appropriate measures to check the noise pollution. 

(The writer is President, Policy Analysis and Action Research Centre, Bengaluru)

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