With Hindu right-wing activists raising the pitch against azaan emanating from mosques, the Karnataka government has reissued an old circular that regulates the use of loudspeakers during the day and completely bans them between 10 pm and 6 am. The order is not confined to religious places alone. While the notification itself is in conformity with orders of the Supreme Court and the Karnataka High Court, the government should ensure that it is implemented uniformly and is not misused to target one particular community. The government’s action comes in the wake of members of a Hindu organisation playing ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ through loudspeakers in the early hours of the day to drown out the azaan. The activists claimed that their repeated complaints to the government over the past one year on loudspeakers in mosques had fallen on deaf ears, but that was no reason to take the law into their own hands and further worsen the already vitiated communal atmosphere in the state. If anybody was aggrieved by the use of loudspeakers or the inaction of government, it was open to them to approach the High Court and seek appropriate orders.
While Hindu activists may see the notification as their victory against Muslims, they perhaps do not realise that the order applies equally to temples and churches. The apex court order banned not only loudspeakers and sound amplifiers between 10 pm and 6 am, but also drums, trumpets, and other sound-producing instruments. They can, however, be used during day hours after obtaining written permission from a designated authority. Even when permission is granted, the noise level at the boundary of the said public place cannot exceed 10 decibels above the ambient noise standards for that area or 75 decibels, whichever is lower. Non-compliance will lead to penal action under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. While no permission is required for the use of public address systems or musical instruments indoors, they have to adhere to specified decibel levels. Different decibel levels have been prescribed depending on the area—industrial, commercial, residential and silent zone.
Interestingly, the order also bans the use of sirens and vehicle horns in residential areas, barring exceptional circumstances. This, too, needs to be implemented strictly. While the government is under obligation to reduce noise pollution as mandated by law and various court orders, its enthusiasm in doing so should not be confined to banning loudspeakers in mosques alone. Noise pollution levels have reached unbearable levels in most cities, and it is important to address the issue in its entirety without using it to stir up communal passions.