Noise pollution is the most neglected issue which can impact the human life in many ways. Increasing population, vehicular traffic, industrial activities, construction activities, etc., all have their contribution to noise pollution which is fast becoming a social evil. Various reports indicate that increasing noise pollution can have adverse impact on the hearing capacity besides other impacts on the health of general public including sleep disturbance, stress, hypertension etc.
Noise levels may be attributed to vehicular traffic, honking, railways, metro trains, aeroplanes, industries, generators, construction activities, use of public address systems, bursting of fire crackers, etc. Interestingly, none of the government agencies have conducted any study to assess the health impact due to noise pollution.
World Health Organisation has drawn up community noise guidelines suggesting noise levels, duration and corresponding health effect ranging from annoyance to hearing impairment. The Government has notified the Noise (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000 which specifies in its schedule the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise for four categories of area / zone namely i) Industrial area, ii) Commercial area, iii) Residential area and Silence Zone. The prescribed day time levels (6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.) are typically ten decibels higher than the corresponding levels for night time except in industrial area, where the difference is five decibels.
Seriousness (or lack of it) of the government in curbing the noise pollution in the country can be gauged by the actions taken by it. Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State, in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently gave an account of the steps taken by the government to reduce noise pollution. Those steps taken to reduce noise pollution, inter-alia, include notification of Noise (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000, monitoring of ambient noise levels by Central Pollution Control Board in association with SPCBs in 7 metropolitan cities, advisories for noise monitoring on the occasion of Diwali, prohibition of the use of fireworks between 10.00 p.m. and 06.00 a.m., publicity regarding the ill effects of fire-crackers, sensitization of students through course curriculum besides general awareness building of public at large to avoid bursting of fire-crackers, and issuance of directions under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and under section 18(1) (b) of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. These are the elementary things which one need to do under any circumstances. However, India being a fastest growing country in the world which is on the verge of seeing explosive growth in urbanisation need to do more than just enacting laws and keeping a namesake monitoring agency.
With rapid urbanization, often unmatched by proper layout of roads, highways and buildings, industrial, residential, and commercial areas lie in close proximity which disturbs the peaceful environment of residential areas.
The government feels that whatever it is doing in controlling the noise pollution is absolutely in line with the requirement and there is no need to do anything more. The government in budget session while answering question from a Member in the Loksabha has said that it has no plans to amend the law determining various norms to check noise pollution spreading through various means. In other words, government feels that existing laws to control noise pollution are working perfectly fine.
There is another indication of efforts by the government in controlling the noise pollution – the funds utilized for maintaining the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network comprising 70 Noise Monitoring Stations is just Rs 43 lakhs / annum. In other words, fifth largest economy in the world with a population of 1.3 billion is trying to monitor and control noise pollution by spending just Rs four million annually. This clearly shows that noise pollution control finds a place at the lowest level in the government’s ‘to do’ list.
It should be noted that preventive measures to minimize pollutants are more practical than their elimination and this fact we are already experiencing in regard to air pollution in National Capital Region. There is no doubt that noise is increasingly becoming a potential hazard to health, physically and psychologically, and affects the general well-being of an individual. If it is left on its own it can create another health hazard, the same way air and water pollution are creating. It is true that noise pollution control is overshadowed by other types of pollution such as air, water pollution, largely due to lack of awareness about its health implications.
One positive about the issue, if one considers it so, is that hazards of noise pollution is largely preventable, much more easily than in the case of air and water pollution. Preventive and control measures like stringent implementation of legislation, efficient engineering products, proper planning of roadways, considering their proximity to human settlements need to be taken by the government. In factories that generate lot of noise at the time of operation, personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and ear plugs need to compulsorily provided to the workers.
Noise attenuation by placing vegetation around buildings is also recommended by the experts. Extensive plantation of trees on the roadsides has multiple benefits in terms of controlling both air and noise pollution and therefore it should be encouraged.
Architects and interior designers, apart from urban planners, have a special responsibility in tackling the problem of noise pollution. Their role in controlling noise pollution is a delicate one. They have an uphill task of educating and convincing their clients the need to go for noise-proof homes and offices without sounding as representatives of the companies which make materials and products which help in creating noise-proof surroundings. They can also promote noise-proof surroundings by encouraging the use of noise-absorbent materials in buildings.
Most importantly, we should realise that it is our life which is going to become miserable if we allow noise pollution to grow unabatedly. So, government’s efforts notwithstanding, we need to realise the importance of curbing noise pollution and take steps which we can as individuals and social animals which in turn may help us to lead a peaceful and healthy life.