- Noise pollution, often underestimated, has long term impacts on mental and physical health.
- While rules to control and regulate noise pollution exist, there is a long way to go in strict implementation. India’s pollution watchdog has proposed fine ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 100,000 for violators.
- The National Green Tribunal in 2019, while hearing a case related to noise pollution, had asked the Central Pollution Control Board to look at revising fines for violations of noise pollution norms.
Incessant honking, loud construction activity, loudspeakers at odd hours – all contributors to noise pollution – could soon fall heavy on the pockets of those violating norms. The country’s pollution watchdog, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), has proposed a set of fines ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 100,000 for people violating noise pollution rules, including measures for the repeat offenders.
The new fines have been proposed in response to a set of cases going on in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) regarding noise pollution wherein the applicants complained that despite several court orders, the problem of noise pollution continues in the national capital. They had complained that by the use of music systems, public address systems etc. during weddings or other functions, the noise being created at odd hours was adversely affecting the health of the citizens.
In November 2019, a bench headed by the NGT chairperson A.K. Goel had asked the CPCB to look at revising fines for bursting crackers and for repeated violations. The tribunal had also asked laying down stringent compensation for tampering with the sound limiters.
Noise has increasingly become a nuisance in India, especially in urban areas. Noise pollution and its sources are regulated under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
“The noise standards for motor vehicles, air conditioners, refrigerators, gensets and certain types of construction equipment are prescribed under Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986. Noise emanating from industry is regulated by SPCBs/PCCs (State Pollution Control Board/Pollution Control Committees) for states/union territories under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. As part of strategy to reduce noise pollution, the steps taken by the Central Pollution Control Board include methodology for noise mapping in India, identifying hot spots and mitigation plan for control of noise pollution etc. apart from the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network in seven metropolitan cities,” Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) Babul Supriyo told the Indian Parliament while replying to a query in March 2020.
While noise pollution does not receive as much attention as air and water pollution, it is known to impact the health of people. Noise pollution can emerge from vehicular traffic, honking, railways, metro trains, aircrafts, industries, generators, construction activities, use of public address systems, bursting of firecrackers among others. Airports can also be a source of noise pollution. In a September 2019 case on noise pollution, the NGT directed that Delhi International Airport Limited should not only measure and maintain the prescribed noise levels but also display the same in the public domain.
“Incessant honking of vehicles plying on the roads is one of the sources of noise pollution especially in cities/towns. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, under the provisions of Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 and Rules notified thereunder have stipulated the norms for noise from horns and vehicles,” said Supriyo.
He also told the parliament that reports indicate that “high noise levels can impact health of people including women and children, causes sleep disturbance, stress, hypertension etc. besides impact on the hearing capacity and ear disorders etc.”
Fines for violation of noise pollution rules
In a report filed with the NGT (June 12, 2020), the CPCB has come out with a list of fines for violation of noise pollution norms. For instance, violation of norms regarding the use of loudspeakers/public address system can result in seizure of the equipment and a fine of Rs. 10,000. Similarly, violation of noise pollution norms regarding the use of diesel generator sets can result in sealing of DG sets and a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 100,000 depending upon its size. The violation in cases of sound-emitting construction equipment can result in a fine of Rs 50,000 and its seizure or sealing.
The violation of noise norms while bursting firecrackers beyond the time limit (prescribed by the Supreme Court) could attract a fine of Rs 1,000 (in the residential, commercial or mixed zone) and Rs 3,000 (in a silence zone). But in case of violation of norms during public rallies, marriage procession or any religious event, a heavier fine of Rs 10,000 could be levied on the organiser in residential/commercial or mixed zone and Rs 20,000 in a silence zone.
The noise pollution rules define the acceptable level of noise in different zones for both day and night time. Silence zones, which are declared by the state governments, are areas around hospitals, educational institutions and courts.
In case of the first violation of noise rule within a fixed premise in a function organised by the resident welfare organisation, a marriage function, public or institution event, banquet hall, open ground functions, a fine of Rs. 20,000 may be levied while a second violation could result in a fine of Rs 40,000. However, more than two violations could result in a fine of Rs 100,000 and sealing of the premises.
The CPCB also told the NGT that they deliberated on fine for tampering of sound limiters – devices fitted in microphones to control the maximum sound generated – but given that the limiters can be faulty too, they wouldn’t be accurate for ensuring regulations. The pollution watchdog said that they are in the process of framing source-specific standards for regulations of loudspeakers and public address systems for specific uses.
At present, violation of noise pollution rules is a criminal offence punishable under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which could attract imprisonment upto five years and fine upto Rs 100,000. Thus, the NGT had noted that “since prosecution of a non-cognizable offence may have its own limitations” civil liability on ‘polluter pays’ principle can be invoked with a proper compensation regime. The fines proposed by the CPCB, in compliance with the NGT order, would be finalised once the green tribunal gives it a go-ahead.
There are a total of 70 noise monitoring stations under the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network (NANMN), established in March 2011, across seven cities – Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow and Mumbai. The 2019 ambient noise level data of these seven cities show that about 90 percent of these stations found noise level beyond the accepted limits both during day and night. At some stations, the noise levels recorded were more nearly double the allowed norms.
Noise pollution can take a toll on health
“Despite substantial data on adverse health effects of noise pollution, the government does very little to curb it. CPCB should actively monitor noise levels and take action without waiting for the general public to complain. There are some low hanging fruits when it comes to controlling noise pollution. For example, it is easy to control noise from honking by simply controlling the level of sound in the horns and levying fines on the offenders,” said Vibha Varshney, a researcher working on health and science issues, with the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based environment think-tank.
The NGT too in its order had noted that noise is an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short and long-term health problems. The tribunal had noted that noise has auditory as well as non-auditory effects on sleep, hearing, communication, mental and physical health. It observed that noise can disturb work, rest, sleep, communication and damage the hearing and cause psychological and pathological reactions and long noise exposure can cause even irreversible loss of hearing.
Delhi-based clinical psychologist Anu Gehlot said that “constant exposure to noise can be a significant trigger for mental disorders such as depression, panic disorder and anxiety disorders.”
“Higher prevalence of mental disorders have been observed in people living in crowded areas and areas that are prone to a high level of noise pollution. Noise pollution is one of the most detrimental triggers to latent psychological problems and can lead to exacerbation of the same. Regular exposure to noise can even come out in the form of people being irritable, nervous and facing difficulty in taking decisions. It has also shown to hinder the normal development of speech and hearing in children resulting in delayed developmental milestones affecting their overall growth. The problem is significant in India’s urban areas and thus it is very important that authorities in India make a concerted effort to control and regulate noise pollution to protect millions of people,” Gehlot told Mongabay-India.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 1.1 billion young people (aged between 12–35 years) are at the risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise. In 2017, a report had highlighted that Delhi and Mumbai are among the list of worst cities across the globe in terms of noise pollution.
Banner image: Noise pollution can lead to both physical and mental health problems. Photo by A.D.Balasubramaniyan/Wikimedia Commons.