Cacophony over celebrity tweet

| | in Oped

Inspite of governmental rules and guidelines, the capital city of India is one among those with degraded hearing quality due to sound pollution. It’s time we stop being territorial and address matters with an objective point of view

A recent tweet by noted singer Sonu Nigam on forced religiousness, in India, through loudspeakers, landed him in the crosshairs of the twitterati who were quick to respond with the choicest of criticisms, while some supported his tweet as well. Though the tweet generated quite a sensation and sparked off an intense debate on the social media, the main issue of noise pollution that faces urban India today escaped the popular attention.

Whether it’s a religious procession, a series of fireworks going off during a political rally, or a wedding party, loud sounds are a major cause of disturbance.

Technically, as per guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in February, 2000, residential areas — which are the most affected ones — should have noise as loud as 50 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night. If one were to draw a comparison, 50 decibels is the same as a quiet suburb, while 45 decibels is the sound one hears in a library.

Most of the metro cities in India today, are suffering from excessive noise, especially during rush hours, that is as loud as 150 decibels across the city; the sound generated during this time is the same as of a jet taking off.

Noise pollution poses several health risks as it works just like nano-sized air pollutants do by stimulating the brain to secrete hormones that create a vasospasm, a sudden constriction of a blood vessel whereby the blood vessel diameter is drastically reduced eventually leading to dreadful diseases, such as Atherosclerosis. The other harmful impacts of noise pollution are loss of hearing, stress and brain damage. Keeping these factors in mind, a 2016 ruling by the ministry, disallowed loudspeakers to operate after 10 pm and before 6 am, moreover, all the loudspeakers were required to be fitted with a ‘Sound Limiter’.

The rule also totally banned the use of loudspeakers in silent zones, which are 100 metres around the premises of hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions and courts. But these rules are lacking comprehensive implementation everywhere, and this is resulting in spiraling decibel levels.

The Government needs to have a stringent drive that has zero tolerance for noise pollution and specifies heavy penalties for the offenders. The efforts by the authorities need to be complimented by a social campaign that aims at instilling civic sense amongst the urban populace and emphasises the importance and sanctity of silent zones in our cities.

Noise pollution is still to be recognised for the potential threat it poses. Whenever environmental degradation and pollution is mentioned, the discussion invariably veers towards other forms of challenges such as air and water pollution, but noise pollution is yet to assume a centre stage in public discourse.

The seriousness of noise pollution can be assessed by the fact that according to a latest ranking of 50 large cities worldwide, in hearing loss and urban noise pollution, conducted by Mimi and Charité University Hospital, Berlin, urban areas such as New Delhi, Guangzhou, Cairo and Istanbul — topped the list of cities where, presently, hearing was most degraded.

The constant din of city life coupled with health disorders is wreaking havoc on the hearing ability of urban population.

To deal with this, the Government must break a new path in dealing with the growing menace of noise pollution. As a foremost initiative, the urban municipal authorities can accelerate tree-planting drives as trees aren’t just good for controlling air pollution and maintaining environmental health but the right combination of tree variety can lower the ambient decibel levels by about 50 per cent.

Scientific studies have proven that apart from the green factor of trees, the sound of leaves rustling, offset the sound of other noises, such as machines used in construction activities and the sound of cars on the road. In general, trees and shrubs with dense foliage which are green year-long are the best option, but having a diverse set of plants with different leaf shapes can also help cover the full spectrum of potential noise pollutants.

The urban infrastructure planning must also draw on the latest engineering breakthroughs from across the world in using construction and town planning practices that use simple yet ingenious methods to bring down noise levels in the city.

Even as Indian cities post ever-increasing literacy levels, the same is not getting reflected in our civic behaviour and our loud cities are a testament of the same.

We should not wait to pay a heavy price before we understand and appreciate the value of silence.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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