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Updated: October 20, 2013 08:09 IST

Breaching the decibel barrier

Sarita Brara
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Sufficiently clad? A child tries to burst a cracker with helmet on. Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar
The Hindu
Sufficiently clad? A child tries to burst a cracker with helmet on. Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

With festivities knocking on the door and Delhiites’ apathy for adhering to sound level norms, one should brace for another ear-splitting noise-polluted season

The season of celebrations is again here with a series of festivities held by people from different communities and provinces lined up. As children we used to wait eagerly for Diwali as it was the only time we could burst firecrackers. Today, however, one dreads the very thought of the deafening sound of crackers days before and after the festival is over.

Not only Diwali, today bursting of firecrackers has become a must for every celebration — be it festivals, winning elections, cricket or any sports victories, weddings and even birthday bashes! During the marriage seasons, driving on roads where a marriage procession passes by becomes a nightmare.

What is worse is that these days there are crackers that can continue to burn for over half-an-hour with ear-splitting noise. According to a test conducted by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) last year, all commonly available sound emitting firecrackers exceed permissible decibel levels.

A study commissioned by Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) a few years back stated that not a single area in the Capital followed the norms on noise levels. A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) survey also showed noise levels going up to 100 decibels in commercial zones and 90 decibels in residential zones during peak traffic hours — levels much higher than the set norms. Delhi is said to be the second most noise pollutant city in the country after Mumbai.

According to a Supreme Court order of 2005, bursting and sound emitting crackers are prohibited from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. It is not just the crackers but the blaring loudspeakers with amplifiers at religious and other functions also add to the noise pollution.

In fact, the immediate provocation for a petition being filed in the apex court in 1998 was that the cries of a 13-year-old victim of rape went unheard in the din of the blaring music over loudspeakers in the neighbourhood. The girl committed suicide following the incident.

The rules very clearly stipulate that no permission can be granted by any authority for use of public address system in the open after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m.; a breach of the timing is tantamount to violation of law. Also acoustic enclosure is mandatory for diesel generators. Generator sets with more than five KVA capacity are banned from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. except in housing societies.

According to other Supreme Court directions, even the peripheral noise level of privately owned sound systems should not exceed five A-weighted decibels. Also beating a drum or blowing a trumpet or using any sound amplifier during the eight-hour period is not permitted.

With more than 75 lakh vehicles plying in Delhi, the non-stop honking, especially on busy roads and at red lights, is a constant irritant not only for commuters but also for people living close to the roads. The Delhi Traffic Police rules say that drivers should use horns only when essential and honking is not allowed in silence zones. While the Delhi government has notified an area of 100 meters around hospitals, educational institutes and all court complexes as silence zones, seldom are these rules followed.

Fitting loud, multi-toned or harsh and shrill sounding horns or alarms in vehicle is not allowed. Vehicles with altered silencers are also prohibited on the roads. Horns are not allowed between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in residential areas except under exceptional circumstances. But are many people actually aware of the rules or even when aware, care to follow them? All the more, how many are booked for violating these rules?

The National Green Tribunal has asked the DPCC to curb noise pollution and have a round-the-clock call centre for registering complaints. It has also called for action against offenders.

Noise beyond a certain level has both auditory and non-auditory effects on health depending on the intensity and density of noise and the duration of the noise level. It can cause sleep disorders, hearing loss, communication disorders and affect mental and physical health.

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