Noise pollution surrounds us everywhere — from the clanging of vessels on balconies during the lockdown, to your neighbours loud music and to the honking of cars. People have gotten used to the constant noise in India and noise pollution has become one of India’s underdog among the environmental pollutants. In between the excitement of the festivities or the daily traffic route we take to go to office, we sometimes forget the effect noise pollution has on health. On World Environment Day, let’s take a quick look at the law on noise pollution and its effect on health.
What is Noise?
Noise is a sound which is loud or unpleasant. Noise can disturb our work, rest, sleep, and communication. It is an environment pollutant that can damage our hearing and evoke other psychological, and possibly pathological reactions.
The law in India which addresses noise pollution is known as the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 (“Noise Pollution Rules”).
Decibel(dB) is the unit of measurement of noise. The law has bifurcated noise limits for three areas- Industrial, Commercial and Residential and provided noise measurements for development and local authorities to follow in these areas. However, for ordinary citizens who are not equipped with noise measuring scientific instruments (such as a sound level meter) you may not always know if you are exceeding the noise limits for a particular area. In such cases, you should make sure that regardless of what you do or which equipment you use, it does not turn out to be noisy and a disturbance for others. For example, if you are playing music during a party in a residential area, try to keep the volume down at night time while people are sleeping as you might otherwise be causing noise pollution.
Against a permissible level of 50–60 dB (A) under the Indian law, the sound level in Indian cities often exceeds 80 dB (A). A 2011 study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) states that the ITO intersection in central Delhi experiences noise levels going up to 106 decibels.
A lack of administrative will to tackle noise pollution is evident as the incessant honking and the use of loudspeakers are a common occurrence during elections, festivals etc. Numerous studies have revealed the effect noise has on the health of humans as well as the impact of noise pollution on animal behaviour.
Noise also interferes with communication, causes stress and annoyance but also has physiological effects on human health. Noise has an explicit effect on the blood vessels, especially the smaller ones known as pre-capillaries. Overall, noise makes these blood vessels narrower. Noise also causes the peripheral blood vessels in the toes, fingers, skin and abdominal organs to constrict, thereby decreasing the amount of blood normally supplied to these areas. Blood vessels which feed the brain, dilate in the presence of noise. This is the reason why headaches result from listening to persistent high noise. Some other health problems which may occur include increased ulcer formations, increased sugar and cholesterol, changes in heart rate and increased blood pressure.
Silent Zones are an area comprising not less than 100 meters around hospitals, educational institutions and courts. Under the Noise Pollution Rules, in a silent zone you cannot use a public address system, play any music, use any sound amplifiers, beat a drum or tom-tom, blow a horn either, musical or pressure, or trumpet, play sounds on any instrument, or exhibit any mimetic, musical or other performances to attract crowds.
Particularly at night (between 10.00 pm and 6.00 am) in silent zones and residential areas you cannot cause noise pollution by using the horn, bursting any fire crackers or operating any sound-emitting construction equipment. States may also declare additional silent zones through orders under the Noise Pollution rules. For example in 2008, Delhi expanded the areas of silent zones to include 100 meters around Courts, Government offices and hospitals.
A recent study across seven major cities in India has shown the indifference by the authorities on the issue of noise pollution. A team of researchers monitored the noise levels at 17 sites declared as silence zones in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Lucknow and found that none of them came anywhere near the national standard. To address the menace of noise pollution, The Ministry of Urban Development in the Master Plan for Delhi for 2021 also plans to add more ‘No Horn Zones’ or commonly noise zones.
Punishment for Noise Pollution
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 punishes people who cause noise pollution.
Creating noise is considered to be a public nuisance under Section 290 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. So any noise which causes any injury, danger or annoyance to the public is considered to be noise pollution. For example, if your neighbour plays a sound system at midnight very loudly, then this is a public nuisance.The punishment for such nuisance is a fine up to Rs. 200.
Since noise pollution causes significant harm to the environment and surroundings, the Environment Protection Act also punishes noise pollution. The punishment for this offence is jail time up to five years and/or a fine up to Rs. 1 Lakh. If the noise pollution continues, then the punishment is an additional fine of Rs. 5000 for every day the pollution happens. If the noise continues for more than a year despite orders to stop it, then you may be punished with jail time up to 7 years.
Complaining about Noise Pollution
If you want to complain about noise pollution, these are some of the options you have:
First Option: Police
Your first option to complain about noise pollution lies with the police. They have the power to stop the noise by suspending the noise-producing instrument and prohibiting the further use of that equipment or instrument.
Second Option: Pollution Control Boards
Your next best option is to approach the Central/State Pollution Control Boards who are the nodal authorities for the prevention of environmental pollution. These authorities have the power to issue a written order for preventing, prohibiting, controlling or regulating any vocal or instrumental music, sounds caused by playing, beating, clashing, blowing, instruments including loudspeakers, public address systems, horn, construction equipment, appliance or apparatus or contrivance which is capable of producing or reproducing sound, sound caused by bursting of sound’ emitting firecrackers and sounds caused from a business operation, or trade, like for example business of creating utensils, etc. The Head Office of the Central Pollution Control Board (“CPCB”) is in New Delhi and they also have several regional offices across states. Even though the offices of the CPCB are only there in a few states, every state also has an office known as the State Pollution Control Board (“SPCB”). You can find a list of SPCB offices here.
Third Option: Complaint with District Magistrate
You can also approach the Court with the help of a lawyer and file a case against the person creating the noise pollution. The Court may pass orders to temporarily stop the noise, permanently remove the noise or regulate it but only after hearing out the person who caused the noise pollution.
Fourth Option: Filing a Case with National Green Tribunal
Any person seeking relief and compensation for environmental damage or pollution involving subjects like air pollution, environment pollution, water pollution, etc. can approach the National Green Tribunal (“NGT”). The NGT is a specialised judicial body where you can go to file environmental cases including noise pollution cases. The decisions of the tribunal are binding and you can appeal within 90 days to the Supreme Court of India if you are unhappy with its decision. You can engage a lawyer if you want to approach the Court to file a case or file an appeal from a judgment of a lower court.
Addressing Noise Pollution
Some of the leading sources of noise pollution in India includes noise from vehicles, airports, railroads, construction, industrial activities etc. Most noise pollution comes from cities or urban areas and industrial areas. Motor vehicle traffic has also been a large contributor to noise pollution in India. The cacophony from cities have now become a new normal for us. The effect noise has on urban dwellers, persons who sleep on the streets, those who work in industries etc. is alarming and requires more discussion. Unless administrative and enforcement authorities of environmental issues in India look to address noise pollution more seriously, it will not garner the importance it should be afforded.
Malavika Rajkumar is the Content Lead at Nyaaya. Views are personal.
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