Noise pollution and road or train rage in Mumbai
13 September 2016 4
Mumbai has the reputation of a friendly and inclusive city, where most people go out of their way to help others. Why are we especially and uncontrollably angry during our commute? While there may be many factors including long daily commutes and over-crowding, a high level of noise pollution, which directly affects mental health, is a major contributing factor.
“Noise pollution adversely affects mental health, creating feelings of frustration, irritation and even rage. Adrenalin levels increase with noise exposure and short sudden blasts of noise (like those from horns) create spikes in adrenalin levels in the bloodstream. Continuous exposure too alters the biochemistry of the brain and gives rise to stress responses,” Says consultant psychiatrist, Dr Amit Desai.
Road rage and train rage are on the rise and commonly experienced in the daily life of Mumbaikars. Normally sedate persons fight uncontrollably and violently on the road over minor traffic infractions. Women scratching and hitting each other in trains are part of daily commutes and traffic policemen have even been assaulted in the course of their duty and even died. A loud or continuous horn is commonly used as an expression of anger and sometimes precedes a major fight, which can bring other traffic to a standstill.
Honorary traffic wardens and traffic policemen are exposed to high noise levels continuously as the major traffic junctions where they regulate traffic are also among the noisiest. Recently, during peak traffic hour, I observed a vehicle with blue rooftop lights (indicating a politician) jump a traffic signal by loudly blowing his horn to clear the path. The traffic policeman standing next to me expressed his immediate angry but helpless response. He told me how provoking anger and fear through belligerent use of the horn was a large part of bullying to break traffic rules. “If we try to stop them, they become abusive,” he said.
Anita Lobo, an honorary traffic warden who has regulated traffic in Bandra for over 15 years has experienced the use of the horn as a means to intimidate and threaten. She has stood up to political pressure and continues to regulate traffic at some of the busiest and noisiest traffic junctions like the junction of the Holy Family Hospital at Hill Road in Bandra. “Horns are often used to express aggression,” she says. “It is a short step from the prolonged use of a horn to an all-out fight on the road.”
Recently, while conducting an awareness program at two traffic junctions under flyovers, I experienced the uncontrollable distress, which accompanied the loud sounds of near- continuous honking. Directly below the flyover (where the police chowky is placed) the sound was amplified by echo off the concrete on all sides and was even more unbearable. At the JJ Flyover, where the noise levels reached 105dB, I was desperate to leave within 10 minutes. The area under Vakola Flyover was not much better, at 102 dB. While holding placards, it was difficult to speak to drivers to request them not to honk. Traffic Policemen stand at these junctions for over 8 hours every day.
Still think Indians are ‘used’ to noise pollution? Here are some shocking facts which point to the effects of noise pollution according to WHO:
1. 27% of the overall population of India suffers disabling hearing loss as against 11% in High Income countries and 3% in North African countries.
2. 12.3 million children and 18.8 million adults of the region including India, Pakistan, Nepal , Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan suffer disabling hearing loss.
3. Nearly 48% of Indians over 65 years suffer debilitating hearing loss as compared to only 18% in high income countries.
(Environmental activist Sumaira Abdulali is convener of the Awaaz Foundation, which is works against noise pollution.)
Noise troubles? Seek money from govt: HC The HC said the failure of law enforcement agencies in implementing noise pollution rules was a violation of a citizen’s fundamental right
MUMBAI Updated: Sep 08, 2016 00:03 IST
Citizens can claim compensation from the state if their complaints about noise pollution have gone unheard, the Bombay High Court (HC) said .
A division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Amjad Sayed said the failure of law enforcement agencies in implementing noise pollution rules was a violation of a citizen’s fundamental right. The order, issued on August 16, was published on the court’s website on September 5. The court will hear the matter again on October 4 to discuss details about the compensation citizens can claim.
“We hold that any breach of the Noise Pollution Rules shall amount infringement of fundamental right of citizens under the Article 21 of the Constitution of India and apart from the other remedies available, the citizens will have right to seek compensation from the state within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India on account of breach of fundamental rights,” read the order.
The court gave the order while hearing a group of petitions that raised concerns over increasing noise pollution and the lack of law enforcement by the police and other government agencies. One of the public interest litigations (PILs), filed by Dr Mahesh Bedekar, an anti-noise campaigner from Thane, said noise pollution rules were not followed during festivals like Ganeshotsav, Navratri and dahi handi, and the police did not investigate complaints about the violation of noise pollution rules.
Bedekar said the HC order was significant. “For the first time, the court has made someone accountable for noise pollution complaints and it will have long-term benefits for citizens,” said Dr Bedekar, adding that as per Article 12 of the Indian Constitution, authorities right from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) ward offices to state government bodies such as the environment department are accountable if no punitive action is taken against offenders.
He said the current festival season is the best time for citizens to seek compensation. “If there is no actions for noise pollution complaints, citizens can now appeal to the government under the Right to Information (RTI) Act,” said Bedekar, adding that if the police had failed to take action, the complainant would be entitled to compensation.
Anti-noise campaigner Awaaz Foundation said it will collect complaints from citizens, along with details of police action and draft a compliance report that will be presented in court on October 4. “It’s a strong incentive for the government not to squander money by paying compensations through this. If they do not take action, they may have hundreds of compensations to pay out,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation. “The court also directed the state government to take action against officers who do not implement the Noise Rules.”
Abdulali wrote to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday highlighting the order. “Awaaz Foundation will maintain an independent record of complaints and will independently monitor noise levels during all festivals. The court has made it clear that these orders will apply to all religions equally,” she said.
Help the cops
Citizens can assist the police by downloading decibel meter apps. According to the recent HC order, citizens can use Whatsapp and email to make anonymous complaints. “Citizens’ complaints and police action will form a record for a compliance report to HC in October,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation.
Kids set off firecrackers in Mumbai during Diwali, the festival of light. Danish Siddiqui/ReutersThe Fight to Shush India's Booming Festival Season
CHRYSELLE D'SILVA DIAS SEP 8, 2016
The most celebratory months tend to be the loudest.
Sumaira Abdulali measures decibel levels around Mumbai year-round, carrying her meter to rallies and festivals. Her insistence on noise control measures has prompted a government officer to call her the Minister of Noise.
Some months are louder than others. In September, India’s festival season begins in earnest. Throughout Ganesh Chaturti, idols of Lord Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, are installed in homes and neighborhood mandals (temporary booths with large installations of the idol) across India. For 10 days, the elephant-headed god is worshipped with offerings of food, milk, and flowers before being taken in a procession to be immersed in a body of water. This season of celebration continues until Holi, the festival of spring and color, in March.
It’s almost six months of celebrations, decorations, and firecrackers. There’s a lot of fun. There’s also a lot of noise.
Abdulali’s Awaaz Foundation is especially busy now, as her Gods Against Noise campaign is aimed at curbing noise during the festive season. Abdulali has been a crusader against noise pollution in Mumbai since 1995. She was instrumental in loudspeakers being banned in Mumbai between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and also in the creation of “silence zones” of 100 meters around schools, hospitals, and religious institutions, among other places.
The Gods Against Noise campaign is a watchdog, especially on guard during the loud festival season. Sumaira Abdulali carries a decibel meter with her. (Sumaira Abdulali/Awaaz Foundation)The noise at festivals like Ganesh Chaturti or Diwali routinely crosses 100 decibels, nearly double the permissable maximum of 55 dB—the sound of normal conversation—in residential areas. Multiple loudspeakers blaring amplified Bollywood hits or devotional songs are commonplace around the idols of Ganesh. Firecrackers after prayers or during processions up the noise level, potentially disorienting and upsetting children, the elderly, and pets. Mumbai has around 1,300 official mandals that have received permission from the state government and several more that haven’t gotten permission or didn’t apply.
In 2005, the Supreme Court of India banned the use of loudspeakers after 10 p.m. This guideline, however, is relaxed for fifteen days of the year including specific festivals and holidays; Abdulali says that the “silence zones” are often disregarded during this time, too, even though local courts have recently reiterated the rules.
“Our fight against noise is a health issue,” says Abdulali. “There’s a lot of awareness about blindness, for example, but not much about hearing loss and how it affects us.” Prolonged exposure to noise, she says, is linked to both short-term and long-term problems, ranging from impaired sleep to cardiovascular disease.
Why City Noise Is a Serious Health HazardAn audiologist explains why it's so much more than a mere annoyance.
Abdulali is a big believer in the power of data. She collects information about decibel levels and offenders through social media. “People can use any noise-measuring app to record decibel levels and then send us the data to our Facebook page, where we will collate it on a Citizen’s Noise Map,” she says.
Though Abdulali says she’s rarely felt unsafe during her work on noise pollution, she’s received threats and intimidation tactics in response to other activism around illegal sand mining. That inspired her to form MITRA (Movement Against Intimidation, Threat, and Revenge Against Activists), a network of NGOs to protect people involved in grassroots activism. With noise pollution, though, spectators “are often curious about what I am doing and are interested in knowing more,” she says. “This has been consistent over the years: people are willing to listen to you.”
People have apparently been listening to Abdulali’s pleas to turn down the noise. Abdulali’s data indicates that noise levels have indeed dropped in the last six years, and at one festival, she recorded a 117 dB, down from a previous high of more than 125 dB. Social media is also playing an important role, as people share articles about noise pollution’s negative effects and use hashtags such as #HornFlu. Around Diwali, many campaigns promote the festivity as one of light, not sound.
Abdulali’s efforts have also resulted in the government of Maharashtra banning the use of the “Horn OK Please” signage on the rear of trucks and buses across the state, on the grounds that it encourages unnecessary honking. She also received unexpected support from the Mumbai police, who helped organize a No-Honking Day in August.
Encouraging people to celebrate more quietly is an uphill task, but progress is heartening. “It’s becoming apparent that noise is a serious health hazard,” Abdulali says. And she hopes that Mumbai is on the road to recovery.
About the Author
Chryselle D'Silva DiasChryselle D'Silva Dias is a freelance writer based in Goa, India. She has written for Time, the BBC, VICE, Marie Claire India, and Guardian Weekly, among others. Visit her at www.chryselle.net.
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Awaaz Foundation's anti- noise pollution campaign has been covered extensively in the Press and media since 2003.