By and large, Indians embrace noise. Their festivals are a riot of colour and sound, weddings an exercise in high-decibel exuberance and house parties an extreme test of neighbourly tolerance.
- The noise limit in Indias residential neighbourhoods is set at 45 decibels at night and 55 decibels in the day
- Indian trumpeters perform with a wedding band as they wait for a bridegroom to join a wedding
- Some Indian officials admit that enforcing the new noise regulations wil be a much harder task than drafting them
But now things have reached such a pitch that the government has decided to step in, beefing up decade-old noise pollution regulations to keep the volume dial turned down.
Advertisement"Stress has been laid on making the night peaceful," the Environment Ministry said last month as it published a set of guidelines specifying when violations should be considered serious enough to merit police action.
The guidelines cover a variety of noise sources from construction sites and car horns to living-room stereos and festive firecrackers.
The noise limit in residential neighbourhoods is set at 45 decibels at night and 55 decibels in the day -- roughly equivalent, respectively, to the noise produced by soft and loud conversation.
Anyone found to be producing noise in excess of those limits by more than five decibels should face sanction from police.
"These will give enforcing agencies more powers to implement rules as they are clear, precise," said J.S. Kamyotra of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Privately, some officials admit that enforcing regulations is a much harder task than drafting them.
"Lets face it, we have been trying to stop people from smoking in public places. And it hasn't worked," a senior control board official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"There are laws and fines and punishments but people always find a way to work around them.
"And if a policeman tries to shut down loudspeakers at a religious event, he risks being lynched for daring to offend religious sentiments," the official said.
Such scepticism is backed by the fact that no one has ever been convicted under the 2000 Noise Pollution Control Act -- which promises seven years' imprisonment to proven offenders.
With its billion-plus population, multiple religions and extraordinary social diversity, India is an almost limitless source of different, and often very loud, sounds -- as any first time visitor to the country can testify.
"We Indians are a noisy lot, be it loud weddings or honking on the streets," Delhi's chief minister Sheila Dikshit acknowledged during a recent conference on environmental health risks.
"Silence talks to us. We do not realise this because of the amount of noise that surrounds us, and noise pollution is a major problem," she said
Displays of wealth, power, happiness and religious faith take place, more often than not, with a high-decibel accompaniment, and there is little that anyone who objects can do.
"I had a rich neighbour who celebrated his son's wedding in a park in front of my house. The music was simply deafening," said an Indian government official who did not want to be named.
"When I asked him to turn it down as it was close to midnight, he refused, saying his son would get married only once and he didn't want to mar the celebrations."
During celebrations last year for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, the CPCB registered noise levels in some New Delhi residential areas as high as 85 decibels, which can result in permanent hearing loss after sustained exposure.
Background traffic noise in Delhi, where a second's delay by a driver at a traffic light triggers a cacophony of impatient horn use, can average between 85-100 decibels during the day.
Dipankar Gupta, a former sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said the growth of private incomes in India had only added to the din.
"In India, as in many developing countries, people think making a noise is their prerogative," Gupta said .
"With rising affluence, India has become more and more noisy because noise is unfortunately associated with status and power. The children of the rich and powerful think its fashionable to make the most noise," Gupta said.
Sharad Aggarwal, deputy commissioner of police in charge of east Delhi district, said the biggest problem was "private parties and the disc jockeys who work at them."
DJs feel they are simply easy targets, and complain that their music is no louder than all-night Hindu prayer sessions, or "jagrans," which are especially common in northern India.
"The cops don't realise that we are just doing our jobs," said a recent letter to the Times of India signed DJ Kushi.
"They never create problems when there is a jagran and you hear loud music then too, so why don't the cops react to that situation?" the letter said.
Environmental activists say politicians often set an appalling example, hosting or attending rallies where loudspeaker volumes are ramped up to the maximum.
"Politicians assume they are exempt from the law and the police often don't take action against them," said Sumaira Abdulali, head of the voluntary group Awaaz (Noise) based in Mumbai.
"It is only through citizens? vigilance that we have seen a decrease in noise levels from political functions in Mumbai. But this is an uphill struggle when the law breakers are those who are supposed to be enforcing the law," Abdulali said.
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