Bengaluru’s noise levels are deafening

Try having a conversation with any shopkeeper on Bengaluru’s Commercial Street. Chances are, you will have to repeat your words, and loudly, too. Constant work in Bengaluru’s commercial areas has taken a toll on his hearing ability. During his waking hours, it is not the good old radio that he listens to, but the steady groan of traffic, impatient honks, the cacophony of vendors, the noise of autorickshaws, cars and bikes. At home, his family complains that he talks too loudly and turns on the volume of the television too high, gets angry very easily, suffers from sleep disturbance and has recurring headaches.

A normal human being should hear a normal tone at 20 decibels(dB). Most of us hear between 45-55 dB with the right and left ears possibly hearing different decibel levels!

Vehicular traffic creates a lot of noise, their horns and engines being major contributors to noise pollution. They shoot up the decibel level at busy traffic junctions. Since nobody observes rules anyway, there is an overwhelming uncertainty about what car ahead may do — which is why people honk, even when passing through “No Honking” zones, near schools and hospitals, etc.

Indian Standards permit a maximum decibel limit of 125 dB for horns used in cars and commercial vehicles. Just 60-65 dB stresses out the human body, causing road rage and aggressive behaviour among drivers.

Decibel levels at MG Road were once counted at 105 dB, while at the Kempegowda bus stand, it was 110 dB. Exposure to around 90 dB for about six hours a day can result in permanent irreversible hearing loss, while at 120 dB, the eardrums register pain and can rupture.

Yes, the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, bans pressure horns and sirens, except when used for police van, ambulances and fire brigades, but callous ambulance drivers revel in creating a ruckus with their sirens even in the middle of the night on totally empty roads. Similarly, there is no regulation on driving with a tampered silencer either, so we have several youngsters having the mesh of their motorbike’s silencer removed so as to make a booming rhythmic sound unmindful of the sound pollution caused by them.

The Central Pollution Control Board’s Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, divide areas into four zones—industrial, commercial, residential and silence. Industrial zones are allowed 75 dB noise during day time; in residential zones, it is 45 dB during night. Normally, levels in industrial areas stay within the prescribed higher limits despite noisy industrial generators used in factories for a 24x7 power backup. Unlike residential and commercial areas, where activities are spread across the day, their activity is time-bound, with most people coming to work and leaving around the same time.

Musical nightmare

Residents of Indiranagar and Koramangala are up in arms against pubs and restaurants that have mushroomed in residential areas. On just four roads in Indiranagar, there are over 150 establishments belting out music through the night beyond the 45-dB limit! It required the Supreme Court to uphold the Karnataka High Court’s 2005 order asking bars, pubs and restaurants playing music to have a proper licence so that noise pollution in residential areas is curbed, and the city police to start a drive to rein in these establishments.

Increase in construction noise in residential areas due to the city’s urbanisation blatantly violates the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, causing trauma. Again, a Karnataka High Court order curbing construction during nights in residential areas needs to be enforced.

The Karnataka Police Act, 1963, and the Environment Protection Act 1986 require loudspeakers and public address systems to be used only after securing written permission from the authorities; only very rarely is this followed as Bengalureans just put up with loudspeaker noise thinking of it as a temporary inconvenience.

Bengaluru’s noise problem gets compounded because a plethora of different agencies are responsible for different types of noise. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) will only handle permanent sources of noise, such as industrial noise from a factory. Noise pollution by loudspeakers, crackers and processions is to be handled by the Police. Motor vehicle noise must go to the traffic police. Similarly, noise from hotels and private organisations is the BBMP’s responsibility.

While these disparate authorities get their act together, audiologists and ENT specialists insist that Bengaluru’s increasing decibel levels are indeed a cause for worry.

As a society, our tolerance to noise is phenomenal. We seldom mind loud music, we honk indiscriminately, and generally tend to ignore Bengaluru’s noise pollution. But we must be forewarned of the consequences: continuing with the current levels of noise for short periods might, with some luck, result only in a temporary loss of hearing, but over extended periods, it will result in permanent loss of hearing.

(The writer is a former director on the Board of BEML)

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