12 of 15 noise monitoring stations record ambient noise levels that far exceed permissible limits

In an ironic twist last month, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) found itself a victim of the very malaise that it’s supposed to crack down on: a noisy diesel generator set in an adjacent commercial complex. A show cause noticed was issued, and the complex was asked to replace its old equipment, that was identified as the source of both air and noise pollution.

The complaints cell at the KSPCB receives scores of similar complaints every week. By the Board’s own admission, these complaints barely scratch the surface, given a majority of complaints are routed through the jurisdictional police. And if the mounting numbers of complaints indicate that we’re living amidst uncomfortable levels of ambient noise, the statistics confirm the worst — 12 out of 15 noise monitoring stations in the city record decibel levels that exceed the permissible limits by as much as 71 per cent.

Interestingly, the only areas where noise levels are within permissible limits — and comfortably so — are all industrial areas. Monitoring stations in all other areas marked ‘residential’, ‘commercial’ and ‘sensitive’ show ambient noise levels that exceed permissible limits. The variance (or the extent by which the noise levels deviate from what’s permitted) ranges between a minimum of 12 per cent to 71 per cent.

In areas that are marked ‘sensitive’ — typically near hospitals, where permissible levels are also significantly lower — the ambient noise levels recorded are far more than even what’s allowed in industrial areas. Take for instance, three ‘sensitive zones’: ESI hospitals in Rajajinagar (average ambient noise stands at 79.5 decibels) and Indiranagar (85.5 decibels), and Victoria Hospital (79.0 decibels), all located in core city areas. All three stations recorded noise levels that would be considered gross violations even in core industrial areas, officials point out. These figures, which represent averages over 2012-2013 (year ending March), were recorded by the KSPCB’s noise monitoring stations that are part of the Central Pollution Control Board’s national noise monitoring network for urban areas.

Officials and experts attribute what they term a spike in ambient noise, reflected in these numbers, to increasing commercialisation of residential areas and noisy traffic on the city’s arterial roads. “Where are the residential areas in Bangalore anymore?” asks a pollution official, who maintains that sound pollution due to loudspeakers is “seasonal (festival related) and negligible”. “The main source of noise pollution, take for instance in the sensitive zones has been identified as traffic. Slow moving traffic is resulting in irate commuters honking loudly, and this adds to the engine noise,” a senior KSPCB official said. The official adds that all the “problem points” also have tall buildings, so the “resultant noise is even more than the noise produced.”

Apart from loudspeakers that are the most obvious cause of pollution, construction work is also a major source. Of particular inconvenience is construction work and drilling undertaken during the night. “We get many complaints about construction work. DG sets and shrill ACs are another source of irritation in residential areas,” another official said.

Transport officials concede that traffic is a huge contributor to sound pollution. While honking loudly can be booked under the Motor Vehicles Act, particularly around ‘sensitive areas’ such as schools or hospitals, not too many cases are registered. Transport Commissioner K. Amaranarayana said that the department conducted several checks, but the number of vehicles using double-sound or shrill horns are less than one per cent . “The real culprit in indiscipline on roads. The issue is a behavioural one that can only be tackled with awareness.”

Noise pollution in cities regulated through two major regulations: the Motor Vehicles Act and the Factories Act. In addition, fresh Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 lays down restrictions on using “horns, public loudspeakers and sound emanating construction equipment.

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