Noise pollution is probably the least discussed compared to air & water pollution. But Noise pollution can result in serious health issues both to humans & animals. Data provided by the government indicates that in both 2018 & 2019, noise level recorded by more than 80% of the stations in seven metros was found to be more than the prescribed limit.
Blaring sound from loudspeakers during weddings, birthdays, festivals, new year celebrations, from religious places & political processions, and the continuous honking in cities makes it difficult for people. Such noise can result in severe health issues among people such as noise induced hearing impairment, high blood pressure, heart disease, stress, and sleep disturbances, to name a few. In addition to this, noise pollution adversely affects the wildlife. Finding desirable habitat and mates, avoiding predators, protection of offspring, and establishment of territories, have been altered because of noise. For instance, elephants make use of seismic and infrasound signals using their feet and trunk for communication. Sound disturbances from humans hinder their communication. Hence noise pollution poses a risk to both humans as well as animals.
Since ‘Noise pollution’ is an important issue, there are regulations aimed at stipulating noise limits and controlling noise above the set standards. The violators will have to pay hefty fines. However, despite the presence of such regulations, noise pollution is often overlooked amidst other issues. It does not get as much attention as say air pollution and water pollution probably because its effects are not often immediately visible, and humans, especially in cities have gotten used to it loud noises. Even in popular discourse, pollution is often associated with air quality, discharge of effluents into rivers, or plastic waste clogging lakes etc.
We take a look at the noise monitoring data across major cities in India in this story.
Noise monitoring stations have been set up across 7 metro cities
In a Lok Sabha response by the Ministry of Environment in September 2020, data related to average levels of noise pollution recorded in seven metropolitan cities, namely, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, and Mumbai was presented. The data is provided at zonal level i.e. commercial, industrial, silent, and residential zones across the seven cities. Average noise levels are recorded by the monitoring stations under the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network, established by the Central Pollution Control Boards and State Pollution Control Boards in 10 locations in each of these cities at day time and night time.
Separate noise limits are set for day time (6 am to 10 pm) and night time (10 pm to 6 am). The standards have been prescribed under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
During day time, 80% of the stations reported noise level above the stipulated limit
In 2019, a total of 56 stations out of 70 had recorded an average noise level above the stipulated limit during day time. This includes all the stations in Chennai, 9 in Delhi and 9 stations in Hyderabad, 7 each in Kolkata and Mumbai, and 6 stations in Lucknow. It has to be noted that each city has 10 stations.
In Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad, all the stations recorded higher noise level than the stipulated limit
During the night time, all the stations in Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad had recorded an average noise level above the prescribed limit in 2019. Likewise, 9 stations in Kolkata, 8 each in Bangalore, and Mumbai, and 7 in Lucknow had also breached the limits. Thus, a total of 62 stations out 70 breached the set limits. In all, 56 stations (80%) had not complied to the set limits during both day & night. In Chennai, all the stations had recorded average noise level above the stipulated limit while in Lucknow only 6 stations had breached the limit both during day & night.
All the stations in silent and commercial zones were above the stipulated limit
If we look at the stations zone wise, 3 out of the total 12 stations in industrial zones, 23 out of 25 in commercial zones, 16 out of 17 stations in silent zones, and 15 out of 16 stations in residential zones did not comply with the limits set for the day time. The numbers were higher for the night time where 5 out of 12 stations in industrial zones and 15 out 16 in residential zones recorded levels above the stipulated limits. All the stations in commercial and silent zones across cities had breached the noise limits set for the night time. In 2019, of the 8 stations which recorded noise level within the limits both during day and night, 7 were in industrial zones and 1 in a silent zone.
If one looks at the number of stations that have not complied with the noise limits either during the day or in the night from 2017 to 2019, except in Lucknow and Mumbai, the number of stations has increased in each of the cities. In Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad, as already observed earlier, all the 10 stations were non-compliant with the limits. Hyderabad recorded non-compliance in all ten stations in 2019 for the first time in the 3 years. On the other hand, all the 10 stations in Chennai and Delhi recorded non-compliance in both 2018 & 2019. Of the seven metros, Lucknow and Mumbai seem to have fared better than the rest.
Noise pollution in the night time is on the rise
The number of stations across these seven cities recording non-compliance of noise limit in the night has been increasing since 2017. In 2017, 52 stations had recorded non-compliance which increased to 59 in 2018 and crossed 60 in 2019. The number of stations recording non-compliance during day time has reduced to 56 stations in 2019 as compared to 57 in 2018.
If one looks at the stations by zone, all the stations in the silent zone across the seven cities have found to be non-compliant with the limits between 2017 & 2019. The number of stations in commercial zones non-compliant with the limits has gone up from 20 in 2017 to 25 in 2019. In residential areas too, the number of such stations was 16 in 2018 and 15 in 2019. From 2 stations in industrial zones, the number of stations violating the limits has gone up to 5 in 2019.
WHO has issued guidelines for monitoring and regulating noise levels
The WHO has rolled out community noise guidelines in which ambient noise levels and durations have been prescribed. Furthermore, steps for noise management have also been laid out in the same. The Ministry of Environment enacted the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 aimed at managing and controlling the noise pollution in the country. These rules restrict the use of loudspeakers and public address systems. Factly’s detailed story regarding the rules surrounding the use of loudspeakers is available here. A video on the same is available here.
Hefty fines proposed by CPCB
In addition to the stipulation of limits, other steps taken by the government include awareness on health ailments due to noise pollution, advisories for monitoring noise during Diwali & other such occasions and use of firecrackers. Even the police department is involved in curbing noise pollution. The noise level of the vehicles is provided in the initial certificate of compliance with pollution standards under the Motor Vehicle Act, 2019. Modification of the component can result in a penalty with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine of one lakh rupees.
Earlier in June 2020, the Central Pollution Control Board proposed hefty fines in a report filed with the National Green Tribunal. Under these new rules, violation in norms over loudspeaker usage or public address systems may attract a fine of Rs. 10,000 and confiscation of the equipment used. Flouting the norms while using diesel generators can attract fine between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 1 Lakh. Despite the existence of all these rules, the on-ground implementation still leaves a lot to be desired.
Featured Image: Noise pollution