THEMES

Piety and Noise Pollution, The Face Off - India 2005
October 1, 2005
Piety and Noise Pollution, The Face Off - India 2005
Piety and Noise Pollution, The Face Off - India 2005
First Published on Octber 1, 2005

Lost opportunity?

For the young girl from the capital, New Delhi, whose cries to be rescued from rapists were drowned in a neighbourhood inundated with the noise of blaring loudspeakers and who committed suicide in bleak despair years ago, some form of justice has been delivered, if  terribly late. The Supreme Court of India’s verdict in July this year directing that silence must reign in public spaces between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. had squarely addressed one of the major burdens of  urban Indian life. A disregard for civic discipline generally accentuated in recent decades by an aggressive display of competitive religiosity on the streets has given rise to the cry for silence. The fierce religion-based competitiveness that reduced even the noise pollution discourse to "our garba, Ganeshotsav" versus "their azan" has vitiated the social climate even further. Hence CC’s cover for this month complimenting Maharashtra for showing the way, barring a few exceptions, while many other states have shown scant regard for implementing the apex court’s verdict. Kerala has in fact expressed outrage at what its literati and intelligentsia consider to be yet another anti-people judgement.

Within weeks of this long overdue verdict, however, came the inevitable roadblock. Reminding the apex court of the discretionary powers state governments have under the amended Noise Pollution Control Rules, 2002 the Gujarat government won extra hours for the nine nights (navratri) of garba-raas celebrations. On October 3, the court modified its earlier order, recognising the still-in-force permission allowing state governments to relax the night-time ban on loudspeakers and public address systems for two hours (10 p.m. to midnight) for a maximum of 15 days in a calendar year. Maharashtra fouled up its legal plea as a result of which Ganeshotsav – all 10 days of it – passed in relative silence, and the early morning azan from loudspeakers in mosques has stopped, even during this month of Ramzan. Did Gujarat win and Maharashtra lose?

Therein lies the rub. In a country yet to awaken to the harmful consequences of noise pollution, forceful legal arguments and strong judicial direction is only part of the solution. Enforcing the court orders successfully is a tricky business in a social milieu where unprincipled political parties and religious organisations in their many avatars wait for every opportunity to demonstrate their aggressive and noisy presence on the streets. This aspect appears to have been ignored by the apex court.

With the festive season (beginning with Ganeshotsav) just a few weeks away, it behoved the apex court, instead of simply delivering its verdict, to call for reasoned arguments from all players in the arena who would be affected by this judgement, be it those who create the din or the police of all states who must now curb it. For instance, state-level police chiefs could have been asked about the measures that needed to be in place for effective implementation of the order. Such advice, stemming from long years of hands-on experience, would have been by and large responsible and measured; where not, it would stand exposed. Instead, what we now have is a "hung society" where a state like Maharashtra stands out as the exception in terms of implementation. In Kerala there is open outrage, in Karnataka disregard, in Madhya Pradesh near scorn. All this adds up to an unsatisfactory beginning for the belated steps necessary to control noise pollution. The Supreme Court order therefore stands in real danger of failing through wilful non-implementation.

Apart from the cover, in CC’s current issue we also examine the implications of another Supreme Court verdict that allows privately funded educational institutions an escape clause from affirmative action and social justice. The attitude of our courts in equating education with a business enterprise for profit, as opposed to a social enterprise for empowerment, is in stark contrast to even advanced capitalist countries like the USA where court after court, through verdict after verdict, has paved the way for civil rights movements. The debate is likely to heat up further in the months to come with the UPA government’s pending bill on free and compulsory education waiting to be brought to the Indian Parliament.

The massacre of Dalits in Gohana, the consistent harassment and intimidation of activists from a statewide network of Muslim women in Tamil Nadu, the hypocrisy of the regime in Saudi Arabia and the tragic tale of continuing racial discrimination in the USA that stands fully exposed in the wake of the natural disaster that befell New Orleans, make up the rest of this issue. We look forward to your comments and suggestions.

– Editors
Silent Prayer

 
Is piety not possible without noise pollution?

In what is without doubt an astounding achievement, religiosity has recently made a quantum leap into the Silent Zone in most parts of Maharashtra. And few are complaining. The state shall go down in Indian history as the one that showed the way. In the matter of controlling noise pollution in the guise of faith, credit must go in equal measure to the police force and the people of Maharashtra, across boundaries of creed and community.
 

Following the Supreme Court ruling of July 18, putting a blanket ban on the use of loudspeakers from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except in cases of "public emergency", the first big test came in September during Ganeshotsav, the most important religious festival in Maharashtra. For ten days every year, this is when Mumbai and most of urban Maharashtra surrendered its streets to music (noise for many) at deafening decibels, shrill loudspeakers blaring from late afternoon until well after midnight. But this time it was different. Come 10 p.m. and in Mumbai, particularly, the sounds of Silence!
 

Parts of Pune provided an ugly exception to the rule. On the night of September 17-18, determined to defy the SC directive, activists of the Shiv Shakti Ganesh Mandal and Rameshwar Chowk Mitra Mandal provoked and clashed with the police. In neighbouring Satara, too, the police registered 41 cases of ban violation. But in most parts of the state both people and police put on an impressive show.
 

(Through a fresh order on October 3, in response to a petition from the Gujarat government and other garba enthusiasts, the Supreme Court has conceded a limited relaxation on the 10 p.m. deadline. (See accompanying piece on SC judgement and ‘Decibel democracy’ by John Dayal). This has created heartburn and resentment in some communities and a resolve in some others to approach the apex court for similar concessions. Meanwhile, all of Kerala appears to be agitated with the apex court’s verdict. But more on this later.)
 

As we go to press, it is day three of the month-long Ramzan and reports from across the state, of Muslim compliance with the apex court’s directions, are as reassuring. For most people from the Muslim-majority and communally sensitive powerloom towns of Malegaon and Bhiwandi noise – and the powerlooms emit an awful lot of it – is synonymous with bread. "It is when the looms turn silent (this mostly means no power since the looms are worked in round-the-clock shifts) that we feel strange," quips Akram Ansari, a young engineer from Bhiwandi.

In the recent matter of controlling noise pollution in the guise of faith, credit must go in equal measure to the police force and the people of Maharashtra, across boundaries of creed and community

Yet Akram from Bhiwandi and journalist Halim Siddiqui from Malegaon vouch for the fact that there is not a single mosque where the morning (fajir) azan is now called on loudspeakers. In fact, it was not just azan; during Ramzan loudspeakers were also used for special taraweeh prayers at night and sehri time announcements sometimes an hour before the morning azan. In a city like Bhiwandi, to suit the convenience of the devout some mosques even hold the taraweeh prayers in two shifts. Akram finds it more convenient to attend the second. "It lasts beyond the 10 p.m. deadline but the masjid authorities have installed a sound system to ensure that no sound spills outside the mosque," says Akram.
 

When contacted, people from Navi Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Satara and Sangli all told CC that it is the same story everywhere: Muslims have agreed to respect the 10 p.m.- 6 a.m. ban across the state. "It seems to be the same story everywhere. People are amazed at this welcome dawn of silence. To be honest, even I am amazed," gushes an exultant Sumera Abdul Ali, who is among the handful of individuals in Mumbai to have consistently championed the control of noise pollution in recent years.


Mumbai could perhaps lay claim to having played a special role in combating noise pollution in the country. Septuagenarian Dr. YT Oke is widely respected as a pioneer in the field, one who was sold to the cause in the mid-’80s after a newspaper published the findings of a German agency on the harmful effects of excessive noise.
 

Again, the Supreme Court’s July judgement came in response to a petition filed by Anil Mittal, an engineer from Mumbai who petitioned the apex court after reading news reports of a shocking incident in Delhi in 1998. A 13-year-old girl, whose screams for rescue from rapists went unheard because of loudspeakers blaring in the neighbourhood, committed suicide.
 

Seventy-year-old HS D’Lima’s fight against unbridled noise pollution in the name of religion, in the course of which he was even subjected to grievous assault some years ago, inspired a documentary on noise pollution, "Is God Deaf?" Over the last two decades intense communalisation of society has acted as an additional hurdle in the battle to control noise pollution. Says Sudhir Badami, another prominent Mumbai-based activist in the campaign against noise pollution, "Hindus would goad us: ‘Why don’t you first ask Muslims to stop using loudspeakers in mosques?’ My answer always was, ‘We need to begin somewhere. Why don’t we start with ourselves, the rest will follow.’ Now that the Supreme Court verdict has been implemented on the ground, no one can complain."
 

While the battle has gone on for years, the ease and speed with which Ganesh bhakts on the one hand and Maharashtra’s Muslims on the other agreed to abide by the apex court’s fiat made it seem like some sort of magic was at work. "No, there’s no magic involved," says Sumera Abdul Ali, "The seven years that it has taken the Supreme Court to deliver its judgement have been useful, as people have gradually gotten used to the idea that a curb was inevitable. More importantly, the way the police handled the issue reassured people from different communities that the restrictions were for everyone, that there was no unfairness involved."
 

Anyone who has ever witnessed the sea of humanity on Ganesh Visarjan would comprehend that actually enforcing the SC deadline was no easy task. But Mumbai’s joint commissioner of police (law and order), Arup Patnaik, makes no tall claims about the role played by the police. "No law or directive can be effectively implemented without the support of the general public. There was and is a general public mandate against noise after a certain hour," Patnaik told CC (See box).
 

Siddiqui from Malegaon readily corroborates Patnaik’s claims. "Leave alone others, more and more Muslims were getting irritated with the way loudspeakers on mosques were being used indiscriminately late into the night and in the early hours of the morning for one thing or another." The same could be said of non-stop bhajans from every roadside mandir. Significantly, the initiative to comply with the SC’s directive in Malegaon was led by none less than Maulana Mufti Mohammed Ismail of the town’s Jumma Masjid.


Sadly, the reign of relative peace in Maharashtra has run into a new hurdle thanks to the short-sightedness of both the government of Maharashtra and the highest court in the land. On the eve of Ganeshotsav, the Maharashtra government appealed to the Supreme Court, praying for a relaxation in the 10 p.m. deadline for the visarjan. No matter how disappointed, millions of Ganesh bhakts in Maharashtra complied with the court order, and Muslims throughout the state stopped using the loudspeaker for morning azans, only to find that the apex court had granted a special concession to Gujaratis for Navratri garba. That may not be the exact truth of the matter but that is how it seems on the surface and this is something that communal forces are sure to exploit.
 

So the Raza Academy is once again thinking of appealing to the Supreme Court for a special concession to Muslims for those months of the year when the pre-sunrise morning prayer has to be held before 6 a.m. Meanwhile, in an obvious show of defiance, in Pune’s Karve Nagar loudspeakers blared till well past 11 p.m. on October 7 and the provocation resumed at 4.30 a.m. the next day. "There was talk by some leaders in Pune even earlier that while there will be no relaxation for Ganeshotsav, garba will be treated differently. Now they can say their bhavishyavani has come true," says Anwar Rajan, Pune-based vice-president of Yuva Kranti Dal.
 

As discontent now brews in parts of Maharashtra, what about the rest of India? "The Supreme Court’s judgement has been well received by the ulema, so in Delhi you can already see a big difference," says Kamal Faruqui, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Two years ago, the Darul Uloom, Deoband, had appealed to Indian Muslims to lower the volume of their loudspeakers as consideration to their non-Muslim neighbours.
 

In Hyderabad, however, it seems to be business as usual. "There appeared to be some self-imposed restraint during the Ganesh Chaturthi procession, but even now azans from loudspeakers mounted on mosques continue unchecked," says Jameela Nishat of the Hyderabad-based NGO, Shaheen. In Bangalore, "if the ban on loudspeakers has come into effect in scattered parts of the city it is only because of the action initiated by some concerned citizens. Both the city police and the heads of religious places are not only oblivious to the ban, they are also impervious about implementing it," adds Gauri Lankesh, editor of Kannada weekly magazine, Lankesh.
 

"There is hardly any hope of the Supreme Court order on the use of loud speakers during the Navratri celebration being enforced in Madhya Pradesh," reports LS Hardenia, a prominent secular activist from Bhopal. According to him, it would be difficult for the police to impose any restraint on Hindutva activists in a state under saffron sway. Besides, during Ramzan it would be also be no easy task for the police to impose the 10 p.m.- 6 a.m. ban on use of loudspeakers mounted on mosques.
 

With states like MP, Andhra and Karnataka showing little enthusiasm in implementing the Supreme Court directive, with Navratri revellers basking in the glory of the concession wrested from the Supreme Court, with virtually all of Kerala up in arms against the apex court’s ruling (see accompanying story), with resentment against perceived discrimination in parts of Maharashtra, will the dawn of silence in one part of India prove to be short-lived?
 

Dolphy D’souza, national vice-president, All India Catholic Union and president, Bombay Catholic Sabha, is all in support of the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. ban on loudspeakers. Since the Maharashtra government resolution in 2003, the church authorities’ directive to the parishes not to break the law were very clear and this was scrupulously followed for the last two years, says D’souza. Among those very pleasantly surprised by the fact that Ganesh bhakts and Muslims, too, complied with the court direction, he now wonders what the implications would be, now that Pandora’s Box has been reopened and a relaxation conceded for the Navratri festival.
 

How the Supreme Court retrieves the situation and how it goes about enforcing its will across the country remains to be seen.

Story Box
 

Noise: Nuisance and health hazard 

  • Although a soft rhythmic sound in the form of music and dance stimulates brain activities, removes boredom and fatigue, its excessiveness may prove detrimental to living things.
  • Effects of noise depend upon sound’s pitch, its frequency and time pattern and length of exposure.
  • Noise is more than just a nuisance. It constitutes a real and present danger to people’s health. Day and night, at home, at work and at play, noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress.
  • Not only might there be harmful consequences to health during the state of alertness, but research also suggests effects may occur when the body is unaware or asleep.
  • Researches have proved that a loud noise during peak marketing hours creates tiredness, irritation and impairs brain activities so as to reduce thinking and working abilities.
  • Hearing loss: it can be either temporary or permanent.
  • Noise can change the state of alertness of an individual and may increase or decrease efficiency.
  • In studies abroad, noise has been related to general illness, neuropsychological disturbances (headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, neuroticism), cardiovascular system disturbances (hypertension, hypotension, cardiac disease), digestive disorders - Ulcers, colitis; endocrine and biochemical disorders.
  • The foetus is not fully protected from noise.

Sound: Safe and unsafe

Sound less than 80 db – normal conversation, sounds emanating from music systems or an orchestra – is safe for the ears.

Constant hearing of sound greater than 80 db – heavy traffic, very loud music – causes temporary hearing loss and if they are not treated immediately, causes permanent impairment.

Higher noise level of 160 db – sounds of aircraft engines, for examplecauses total deafness, rupturing eardrums, damaging inner ear. It also causes high blood pressure, ulcers in stomach, palpitation, nervous problems, irritation, anger, and affects pregnant women’s embryos.

Noise Pollution: What you can do

For information on noise pollution, including government regulations and court judgements, and what you can do to help control it, visit the website,

http://personal.vsnl.com/aspirations


"There is a general public mandate  against noise after a certain hour"

Arup Patnaik
Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), Mumbai

No police force can effectively implement any aspect of the law or any judicial directive without the public, by and large, accepting it. If the people feel that it goes against them, they take to the streets. Any political or legal mandate is effective, or not, depending on widespread acceptance of what it stands for.

For a decision of this kind that the Supreme Court delivered on the eve of the festive season, a police force needs to win the psychological and emotional support of the people. No law or directive can be effectively implemented without the support of the general public. There was and is a general public mandate against noise after a certain hour. It is not simply the concern of a handful but of the wider section that is concerned about the elderly, about young persons who have to study and give examinations… by and large people get irritated with noise and disturbance after 10, 10.30 p.m.

Sensing this, the Mumbai police approached the whole issue very judiciously. There appeared to be unanimity that the verdict/directives must be implemented and we conducted a series of meetings with groups and organisations, Ganpati mandaps and other religious groups. We were clear that we wanted cooperation from them and that we would not use any force. We also made it clear that the directive was not a police decision and under no circumstances should we use force. This was our approach. There was the odd Ganpati mandap and procession that chose to be defiant but these were minor incidents. We had also decided that in case of violation of the SC directive we would file a few cases and pursue them but all with an aim to convince the defaulter of full cooperation the next time round.

By the way, the SC gave little time to prepare, little time for implementation or negotiation. Some aspects of the verdict, including one that enjoins us to record decibel levels with a decibel metre amid a crowd of thousands (this to be done by an officer not lower than the rank of deputy superintendent of police) are impractical and we told the court so. We were also aware of the statutory discretion available to us under the Noise Pollution Control Act and Rules and had internally decided to use this discretionary power if necessary.

In a sense we were caught between the devil and the deep sea but fortunately passed the test. What all authorities need to remember is that we live in a multi-racial, multi-religious society and what applies to one must apply to the other. Now that some discretion has been subsequently granted by the SC, other groups will also approach the court for similar relief.

There are also some fundamental issues that this directive raises. In Punjab we have the tradition of lori in rural areas; a practice that has been going on for hundreds of years… in many of our villages we have village jatras that also have long traditions and involve the entire village community. While such a verdict is important in large urban conglomerates like Mumbai and Delhi, it will have different implications in rural India. These are long-term aspects that need to be decided when we look at this issue. We must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater…

(As told to Teesta Setalvad).

Throttling society

Dr. Sukumar Azhikkode addresses satyagrahis, abandoning mike, in protest against police restriction on mike usage      Courtesy: Jayakrishnan CK, Mathrubhumi  

 
In Kerala the night time ban on loudspeakers is seen as an attempt to silence the masses


Cultural Kerala has risen in protest against the July 18 verdict of the Supreme Court banning the use of loudspeakers in residential areas from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except in case of "public emergency".

Jurist VR Krishna Iyer has vehemently decried the general nature of the verdict. "Pleasurable sounds with aesthetic orientation" like music and related artistic activities should not be stifled. Remarkably prescient, he pointed out the distinct danger of the misuse of this provision by authorities, especially the police. "Never should constabulary control, often vulnerable to corruption, be entrusted with police power."

This insight is relevant in the context of a recent incident. Dr. Sukumar Azhikkode, well known as the social conscience of Kerala, forsook the mike in protest against a police order restricting permission to half an hour. This happened on September 13, when he inaugurated the satyagraha against the ban on common salt organised by Jana Arogya Prasthanam (JAP, People’s Health Movement) outside the district medical officer’s office in Kochi. The police justified the restriction on the grounds that the venue was a public place. The licence mentioned that the decision was based on a government notification. "I have never been so humiliated in my life. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by our Constitution," said Dr. Azhikkode. Chairman of JAP, Dr. Jacob Vadakkanchery has resolved to challenge the verdict both by flouting the ban as well as contesting it legally with the support of eminent political and social activists.

The Performing Artists Coordination Kerala (PACK), an apex body of aggrieved artists with veteran stage personality Ahwan Sebastian as general convenor, has already filed a review petition in the Kerala high court. According to PK Sunil Kumar, state secretary of the Musicians Welfare Association, one-and-a-half lakh families of instrument players and singers would be affected. In all, three lakh families of performing artists would be robbed of their livelihood. This sentiment is echoed by KJ Thomas, joint secretary of Bankment’s Club, Kozhikode, a premier organisation with a vibrant cultural calendar, who also fears dubious intent to promote only religious functions, further fuelling religiosity. His opinion is shared by VS Anilkumar, progressive writer and academician, who also sees in it a conspiracy to broaden spaces of silence in society, which will facilitate the unchallenged implementation of the globalisation agenda of neo-liberal polity. He also equates this with the deliberate American killing of an Al-Jazeera journalist in Iraq, thus silencing uncomfortable voices of protest.

Doyen of Malayalam theatre, KT Mohammed views it as an assault on the free exercise of the beauty and strength of sound, which is an inalienable right of the people. Sara Joseph, Kendra Sahitya Academy award winner and social activist, is of the opinion that the plight of the five lakh odd families who would be affected by the ban, should be addressed. While political and religious functions can be thus restricted, artistic expression should be exempted. "In the present dispensation the tendency seems to be to curb all essential rights enjoyed by the masses, whether it is the right to strike or the right to organise peaceful demonstrations. The present curb on the use of loudspeakers is yet another glaring example of this wanton attempt," says Dr. TK Ramachandran, cultural critic and coordinator of Secular Collective, Kozhikode.

Another stark human face of the ban is highlighted by PK Assainar, Malappuram district president of the Sound Service Association, who reveals that more than two lakh people directly and indirectly employed by this sector would be affected. Already the ban on advertising announcements by commercial establishments has rendered people jobless. Lottery ticket-sellers are permitted on the grounds that they operate at the low decibel level of hand-held megaphones. Increasingly, people from the light and sound field are now hiring themselves out to mobile displays of commercial establishments in pick-up vans, which according to him, and in flagrant violation of the law, are not even insured. The night cap on loudspeakers will adversely affect their prospects, as most of the religious functions and fairs are late night or even all night celebrations.

The consensus thus seems to be that this ban would lead to throttling society, since it prevents the vigorous and continued articulation of dissent, which is the cornerstone of democracy.

Archived from Communalism Combat,October 2005 Year 12    No.111, Cover Story 2

 
Judicial slip-up
 

With growing awareness in the country about the hazards of noise pollution, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India framed a draft of Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules, 1999 inviting objections and suggestions from the public. The following year the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 came into force.

The regulations asked state governments to demarcate areas under their jurisdiction into industrial, commercial, residential or silence areas/zones and to ensure that the noise level in each of these areas stayed within the outer limits specified by the ministry. At the same time, it was also stipulated that no one could use loudspeakers and public address systems without prior permission from relevant authorities. It was also provided that "A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used at night (between 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m.) except in closed premises for communication within"

Certain amendments were made in the Noise Rules in November 2000 and again in 2002. The latter gave some leeway to state governments: "the State Government may… permit use of loudspeakers or public address systems during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00. midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during a calendar year".

Earlier, in a 1998 writ petition filed in the Supreme Court (see main copy), the main prayer was for a court order directing all state governments to rigorously enforce the existing laws for restricting the use of loudspeakers and other high volume noise producing audio-video systems "so that there may not be victims of noise pollution in future".

In 2003, the apex court later attached to the writ petition a special leave petition that questioned the discretion given to states to relax the night-time ban on loudspeakers on the plea that without proper guidelines this would defeat the very purpose of the noise control rules.

In its judgement of July 18, 2005, the division bench of Chief Justice RC Lahoti and Justice Ashok Bhan made certain observations and issued some specific directions:

 

Observations:

  • Noise pollution is a serious issue as it can be related to the constitutional right to life (Article 21). The right to life enshrined in Article 21 is not of mere survival or existence. It guarantees a right of persons to life with human dignity… Anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quiet within his house has a right to prevent the noise as pollutant reaching him.
  • Those who make noise often take shelter behind Article 19(1)A pleading freedom of speech and right to expression. Undoubtedly, the freedom of speech and right to expression are fundamental rights but the rights are not absolute… Article 19(1)A cannot be pressed into service for defeating the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21.
  • Noise is more than just a nuisance. It constitutes a real and present danger to people’s health.
  • The Legislature and the Executive in India are (not) completely unmindful of the menace of noise pollution. Laws have been enacted and Rules have been framed by the Executive for carrying on the purposes of the legislation. The real issue is with the implementation of the laws. What is needed is the will to implement the laws.
  • The Supreme Court in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India vs. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Assn., (2000) 7 SCC 282, held that the Court may issue directions in respect of controlling noise pollution even if such noise was a direct result of and was connected with religious activities. It was further held: "Undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others, nor does it preach that they should be through voice amplifiers or beating of drums. In our view, in a civilised society in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students or children having their sleep in the early hours or during daytime or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted".
  • Several interlocutory applications have been filed in this Court, wherein it was pleaded that restriction on bursting of firecrackers in the night should be removed during the Diwali festival. Similar relaxation was demanded for other festivals… Indian society is pluralistic. People of this great country belong to different castes and communities, have belief in different religions and customs and celebrate different festivals. We are tolerant for each other. There is unity in diversity. If relaxation is allowed to one there will be no justification for not permitting relaxation to others and if we do so the relaxation will become the rule. It will be difficult to enforce the restriction.

 

Highlights, court directions:

  • There shall be a complete ban on bursting sound emitting firecrackers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. It is not necessary to impose restrictions as to time on bursting of colour/light emitting firecrackers.
  • No one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10. 00 p.m. and 6.a.m.) except in public emergencies.
  • The peripheral noise level of privately owned sound system shall not exceed by more than 5 db(A) than the ambient air quality standard specified for the areas in which it is used, at the boundary of the private place.
  • No horn should be allowed to be used at night (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) in residential area except in exceptional circumstances.
  • There is a need for creating general awareness towards the hazardous effects of noise pollution. The State must play an active role in this process. Special public awareness campaigns in anticipation of festivals, events and ceremonial occasions whereat firecrackers are likely to be used, need to be carried out.
  • The States shall make provision for seizure and confiscation of loudspeakers, amplifiers and such other equipments as are found to be creating noise beyond the permissible limits.

On the eve of Ganeshotsav, the Supreme Court turned down the plea of the government of Maharashtra for relaxation in the night-time ban on loudspeakers. But in response to a petition from the Gujarat government, the Supreme Court passed a further order on October 3. The apex court’s attention was drawn to the fact that under sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5 of the Noise Control Rules, 2002, state governments have the discretion "to permit use of loud speakers or public address systems during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during a calendar year".

It was further contended that since in its July 18 judgement the apex court had not specifically upset the division bench judgement of the Kerala high court and had also not even otherwise expressed and recorded any specific opinion on the constitutional validity or otherwise of sub-Rule(3), the state governments could exercise the power conferred by sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5.

Admitting the point made, the court agreed to re-open the case for fresh hearing to the limited extent of examining the constitutional validity of sub-Rule(3). Until then, Rule 5 would remain in force. The court once again refused the plea for allowing the bursting of firecrackers on Diwali.

Unfortunately, the failure of both the government of Maharashtra and the apex court to refer to sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5 earlier, and the concession of the point when raised by the Gujarat government subsequently has, however, reintroduced the element of resentment and competitive religiosity and taken some of the shine off the widely welcomed Supreme Court ruling of July 18.