Lindsay Pereira: How do you sleep at night?

Published: Feb 03, 2018, 06:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

The answer to a question so deceptively simple will tell you a lot about how 'sound' the governance is in our country

A lot of schools, courts and hospitals are no longer silence zones, presumably because the authorities don’t see why children need quiet places to study or patients need silence to recuperate. File picA lot of schools, courts and hospitals are no longer silence zones, presumably because the authorities don’t see why children need quiet places to study or patients need silence to recuperate. File pic

Lindsay PereiraHere's something interesting I stumbled upon earlier this week. The website of the government of India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has a page devoted to the Noise Pollution Control Committee. I had no idea this committee existed, considering I have seen little evidence of the ministry's work on climate change to begin with, but I was intrigued enough to spend a few minutes there.

I found out that, according to the permissible levels for noise exposure for a work zone area 'prescribed under the Model Rules of the Factories Act, 1948', there were all kinds of rules about the manufacturing, sale and bursting of fireworks. These had been put on paper decades before I was born, which came as a surprise to me because I had never seen proof of their implementation. Even more amusing was a list of rules about public address systems and construction activities. Apparently, a licence must be obtained by all parties intending to use loudspeakers for any occasion. Also, they can't be used after 9 pm, except in closed premises, and should be directed at audiences, not towards neighbourhoods. The rules on construction list the need for acoustic barriers placed near construction sites, fencing around those sites, and careful removal of materials and unused equipment.

It was shocking to find that the government had actually commissioned people to try and figure out what the best way to deal with fireworks, loudspeakers and construction was. Yes, the rules may simply have been copied and pasted from a list published by another government that actually cared about its people, but the fact that they existed at all was a positive thing. Unfortunately, as is the case with almost everything done by successive generations of politicians, there was a lot more effort on planning than execution.

A little over two months ago, the state urban development department notified 110 new silence zones in the city. This happened after noise pollution rules were amended by the Union environment ministry in August last year, which effectively removed all silence zones unless they were notified by the state as such. The 1,503 silence zones that had existed until that point - on paper alone, obviously - were suddenly made redundant. A lot of people were understandably upset about this, hence the list of new zones. No one knows how these zones were picked, or why. A lot of schools, courts and hospitals are no longer covered, presumably because the people responsible for creating the list don't see why children need quiet places to study or patients need silence to recuperate. These things are obvious only to those with common sense, after all.

To make things worse, the BMC has yet to put up boards declaring these 110 spots as silence zones. In their defence, they have had only two whole months to do this, which isn't enough time to type out 'Silence Zone', let alone print placards or paint signboards. A lot of people have questions about how these zones were selected over others, and why the overall number of them was reduced in a city that needs less noise, not more. In keeping with the government's policy of transparency and openness though, there are no answers forthcoming.

What the BMC has done is start two help lines for complaints related to noise pollution (1292, 1293). So, if you believe your rights are being violated - and they probably are, even as you read this - you can call these numbers and, if you're lucky, someone may even take your calls and note down your complaint.

Governance is about making lives easier. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw anyone stick to the rules related to noise pollution? When was the last time someone stopped bursting firecrackers between 9 pm and 6 am? When was the last time a political party organised an event that didn't involve loudspeakers outside your building? When was the last time you walked around a construction site and spotted barriers or the careful disposal of material and equipment?

Here's another piece of interesting information I found at the ministry's website: 'Noise is defined as unwanted sound. Sound which pleases the listeners is music and that which causes pain and annoyance is noise. At times what is music for some can be noise for others [sic].' I am not making this up.

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