The Noisy Indian

Sound is what we hear. Noise is a sound that we don’t want to hear. The difference between sound and noise depends upon the listener and the circumstances. Rock music can be a pleasurable sound to one person and an annoying “noise” to another.

We are all subjected to some form of loud noises for a considerable amount of time, during the day and night. We bear with the noise created by blowing of horns on the roads, noise created by the loudspeakers, tolerate noise during festive-times and during processions carried through the street. It seems like people consider noise as an expression of happiness, especially the Indians.

Noise pollution is one of the major environmental concerns in India today. Sadly, many are unaware of the hazards it can cause.

Noise pollution is linked to many ailments – from irreversible hearing loss to anxiety attacks to hypertension and heart disease. The situation is so bad in Indian cities that ENT specialists now say a 20 dB loss in hearing among urbanites is “normal”. Changes in the immune system and birth defects have been also attributed to noise exposure

To measure noise, the average pressure level of the sound is used over time by a weighting scale. The noise level is generally expressed in decibels.

Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests issued Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules in 2000. These rules were last amended in January 2010.  The rules prescribe noise standards in decibels based on area and time.  For residential areas, the standard is 55 dB (Leq) in the day time and 45 dB (Leq) at night.

Day time means time from 6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m and night time means time from 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. dB(A) Leq denotes the time weighted average of the level of sound in decibels on “scale A” which relates  to human hearing.

The Noise rules are meant for the following:

  • Implementation of noise standards in different zones or areas.
  • Restrict the use of loud-speakers.
  • Restrict the over-usage of horns, sound creating equipments for construction and fire-crackers.
  • Allott responsibility to State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) or Committees and the Central Pollution Control Board, for collecting, processing and providing the statistical data about the noise pollution, so that adequate measures may be taken to prevent and control.

On violation of these rules, the person is liable for penalty. The government is now working on devising new noise pollution standards.

In March 2011, the central government set up the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network (NANMN) of 70 stations, through Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the SPCBs, to monitor noise on a 24×7 basis in India’s seven largest cities. These cities include Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Mumbai (and Navi Mumbai). It is expected that the number of locations to be monitored will be increased to 160 cities in two phases.

A four-year study (2011-2014) on Noise pollution based on NANMN showed that Mumbai is the noisiest city, just ahead of Lucknow and Hyderabad while Delhi stood fourth and Chennai fifth. The busy ITO junction in Delhi registers around 74 decibel (dB) of sound on a typical day, almost 10 db over the limit for the commercial areas. The level near Acworth Hospital in Mumbai’s Wadala is usually 70 dB, almost 20 dB more than what’s permitted in such a zone. Even the “silence zones” – (areas within 100 metres around hospitals, educational institutions and courts) -do not meet the noise standard.

Several studies have been conducted to learn about the noise levels during Diwali festival. As per the study conducted on noise levels due to Diwali firecrackers by Awaaz Foundation along with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board  the noise pollution reached to over 125dB between 2008 and 2013.

CPCB released a report in 2016 “Status of Ambient Noise Level in India” that provides access to the noise data. It’s an excellent report to read and understand the problem of noise pollution in Indian cities.

I was speaking to my Professor Friend after reading this report. We met in a bar where the audio system was under renovation and hence we could have a conversation. We asked for some draught beer and took seats next to the bar.

“Well, I am just returning from Delhi after a meeting with the High Command” Professor said.

“Now that the State elections are over, we have decided to take the issue of noise pollution very seriously”. He lit his cigar.

“With effect from April 1, 2017, we will enforce that all sports events held in India will observe complete silence. You will now watch cricket matches where no one will be allowed to shout or even speak. People will only observe and watch the game as that is what they are supposed to do”

“Are you crazy?” I (almost) screamed. “Game like Cricket works only on  screaming and shouting – it’s the noise that creates the pressure and the push and hence the unpredictable”.

“Well, we will now focus on the health impact of the audience in the stadium as well as impact on the neighborhood” – Professor said this rather solemnly.

He continued.

“There will not be any announcements made at the Railway Stations as well as Airports on arrivals and departures. Everybody will look at the signboards that will provide latest information – right or wrong.”

“But wont people miss the flights and trains creating a chaos? Everybody is used to the announcements (although we know that most announcements are difficult to comprehend and create only noise!).  Besides what will happen to the jobs of the announcers. I am sure this will lead to a huge unemployment. Railway Minister Prabhu will know”

But, Professor did not seem to listen.

“The noise standards for fire crackers, loud speakers and horns in the car will be tightened. Manufactures will have to meet these new standards. The permissible noise levels will be mentioned on the packaging of these products and people will be told that these numbers are decibel levels and not the prices”

“But wont it affect the power of the political rallies and the fun (or sadistic pleasure) of annoying the neighborhood during festivals? We are used to honking loudly to vent out our frustrations when car is stuck in a traffic”. I protested.

“Regarding honking, we have asked Music Composer A Rahman to come up with a powerful audio clip on meditation that will be made available to download free. When played in the car, people will remain calm, will not honk and take traffic jam as their fate or way of new life.

“Oh, Rahman will sure do a good job”. I liked the idea of free meditation music in the car for calming down (and may be to fall asleep)

I thought of making a point

“Professor, you need to raise funds however to expand the NANMN and put more 24×7 monitoring stations, especially in States like Uttar Pradesh. Include large display boards as no one knows about them. Why don’t you increase the fines and the enforcement to generate required funds? In Delhi, the traffic police, challaned just 35 people for honking in 2015! They were fined Rs 1000 each. That’s no impact and no income”

“You made a good point” Professor said. “I will speak about this to Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. He is looking right now for new ideas”.

He continued

“There will not be any night time construction now in the 7 cities where noise monitoring has been done”

“I guess this does not happen anymore today – at least on paper” I said

“but if you insist on this imposition then the construction projects will get delayed that will lead to much more inconvenience to the citizens. A little bit of noise at the night time should be alright to meet the deadlines and get handsomely paid as a bonus”

Professor ignored what I said.

“We are revising the building standard too – We will insist installation of double or triple pane windows in the buildings falling in silence zones. These costs will be met by the Government from the election funds”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you Professor”. I said.

“But we are going even a step beyond”. Professor continued.

All major roads in the 7 cities will have noise barriers on both sides.

“That’s terrible Professor – these barriers will be sour spots of visual intrusion, blocking perhaps not noise but the flow of wind and affect the pedestrians” I was very concerned with this proposition.

Just as we were planning to have a last glass of beer for the road, we saw Nirajnan Hiranandani, a reputed builder of Mumbai, taking a stool next to us with few of his friends.

Niranjan said “Have you heard about a rumor that the Government is linking real estate price to the noise levels. The noise contours generated in cities will be used and data will be shared with public with information on the health impacts. “Reality data” in Europe and United States shows that real estate prices drop by 10 to 15% if the noise levels are high or exceed the standards. Apparently, some Professor is advising to the High Command in Delhi to set the framework. Crazy Professor he is. This is really worrisome to us. I am thinking of appointing a Noise Manager in the company or ensure that the noise monitoring instruments show lower results”

I thought linking real estate price with noise levels was a great idea – something more powerful than the mere enforcement of regulations.  I saw the Professor was smiling mischievously while extinguishing his cigar.

In Niranjan’s group there was “India CEO” of Sennheiser – one of the largest makers of headphones. The CEO said “if noise pollution is curbed, then I see impact on the sale of our flagship product –  the noise cancelling headphones. There will be only little to “cancel” if the noise stays in limits!”.

I thought he was right. But his fear looked much exaggerated.

And then there was someone in the group (who looked like a mix of Bhappi Lahiri and  R D Burman). He said.

“Well most people in India are accustomed to ambient noise over time. They cannot tolerate silence. They cannot sleep unless they hear the rumbling and rhythmic sound from the trains moving on the rail track at night. I plan to record this rail noise, make interesting audio clips and sell as a download on mobile phones. I am sure this clip will be downloaded and used by the millions living in Mumbai for a good night sleep “

I thought he was right too.

Indians indeed are happy and feel comfortable when there is noise.

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