A practical solution would be to shift the scene of noisy festivities away from roads to community centres and other large open spaces

During the just-concluded month of religious festivities, many road margins in the city were full of giant cut-out figures of deities formed using coloured light bulbs. Intersections were blocked for local events, firecrackers exploded even at 2 am, and songs blared from loudspeakers throughout the day. Many would marvel at the way the city moves on with displays of devotion, masking its chronic problems of power cuts, foul water sending people to hospitals, children falling victim to man-made disasters, the roads left unusable after a wet spell, and so on.

The official machinery is obviously keen to indulge some influential sections that brazenly encroach upon public property. Several streets were rendered partly inaccessible on some days in July-August, as pandals were put up by roadside temples. The police tacitly allowed this, in spite of being frequently directed by the Supreme Court that such encroachments were not permissible. 

In its widely reported order of 2009, the Court ordered States to prevent unauthorised construction of temples, churches, mosques and gurudwaras on streets, parks and other public places. Two years later, the Court asked the States to formulate a comprehensive policy on removal, relocation and regularisation of such construction. Tamil Nadu informed the Court that there were 77,453 temples in the State which were unauthorised structures, and a much smaller but significant number of other religious constructions.

Each passing year, it becomes evident that no government is ready to ‘remove, relocate and regularise’ these structures. Many new ones crop up along road margins even as existing ones expand. This trend makes life difficult in several localities as roadside temples and other structures stake a claim to the surrounding area. A practical solution would be to shift the scene of noisy festivities away from roads to community centres run by the Corporation of Chennai or other agencies, or to rented halls and other large open spaces in the area.

In any case, there is no excuse for violating the law on noise pollution even if the festivities are shifted. The police do not seem compelled enough to enforce it at present, but the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, require the State Government to enforce a midnight cut-off for noise created by religious and cultural activity, not exceeding 15 days in a year. There is also a legal requirement that mandates the State Government make advance announcements about such permission granted, and also monitor the noise level to ensure a cap of 10 dB(A) above the maximum permissible, or 75 dB(A), whichever is lower. Much of the 15-day ‘noisy days’ allowance would have been used up in the past four weeks in Chennai.

Under the rules, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) is required to “collect, compile and publish technical and statistical data relating to noise pollution and measures devised for its effective prevention, control and abatement.”

Even if it is collecting such data, there is no sign of it on the TNPCB website. Will it share this important set of statistics so we may be able to assess how quickly we are losing our hearing?