Jun 16 2016 : The Times of India (Mumbai)
BMC has no rules to keep noise levels down at building sites
For several months in 2015, Maple Tower housing society along SV Road in Jogeshwari was plagued by the ear-splitting sounds of heavy machinery drilling into the basalt at Gilbert Hill.“A construction site along the hill made life difficult for our residents, many of whom are senior citizens. Often work would start in the early morning hours and continue well into the night,“ said a resident. The society then approached the police and the state pollution control board as well as NGOs. The news grabbed media attention, after which the builder began to wind down his heavy equipment at sunset.
Not everyone living next door to a construction site may have a similar happy ending to narrate because there is no formal notification of guidelines for construction sites. There are no civic rules that make it mandatory for builders to curb noise levels. “The BMC only makes us sign a no-nuisance bond. That's it,“ said a developer.
The crux of the issue is that while police is the implementing authority for noise limits under environment protection rules, the BMC is the agency which is in charge of issuing permissions for development and alterations. Since the latter has not laid down guidelines on noise, a developer or an individual can take cover under the approvals secured from it.
Awaaz Foundation, which has worked for the past 14 years on noise pollution, has readings from construction sites which show that noise levels from construction equipment routinely exceed safe levels for silent or residential zones. Pneumatic drillers used for foundation excavation hit 100dB, cement mixers 85dB, and marblestone cutters 85dB but at very high frequency which make them more damaging. And very rarely are police able to act on complaints against such violations. To bring the issue to the authorities' notice, activist Sumaira Abdulali recently wrote to the municipal commissioner, “It would be appropriate...to specify... ex act type of equipment, with measured decibel levels, and after checking its availability in the city of Mumbai, which would make conformity with Noise Rules possible, particularly during the extended time period.“
The suggestion seems pertinent especially since the earlier practice to allow construction from 7am to 7pm has now been relaxed further on grounds of enhancing the ease of doing business. The civic body has now permitted work from 6am to 10pm. A member of the BMC's building proposals department said, “Now the definition of `onset of night' is defined as 10pm so technically builders say they should be allowed to carry out construction activity until that hour. The civic commissioner has allowed that.“
Shirish Sukhatme, immediate past president of the Practicing Engineers and Architects Town Planners Association (PEATA), says methods of construction have become noisier over the years. “The development control (DC) rules now make it mandatory for builders to provide parking. Moreover parking is a saleable commodity and parking lots sell for Rs 25-50 lakh. Owing to this, buildings are taller as lower floors are reserved for parking and residential flats are higher. So foundations are dug deeper into the ground using heavy machinery .“
Structures are now fashio ned using steel technology where metal is bent, ground, and welded. Moreover, for those that rise 70m or higher, piling work is a must, which is done in situ by hammering cast iron deep into the ground; this creates a loud sound and vibrations.
“Add to that the loading and unloading material and debris, labourers shouting and construction is quite a noisy affair,“ he says. “The use of concrete breakers in fact can reach levels up to120dB making it impossible to hear another person speak.“
Sukhatme recommends use of noise dampers on such sites.If they rise up to 10 metre high and incline at an angle of 45 degrees they can muffle some of the sound from drilling and cutting.
Representatives from the construction sector say necessary efforts are made to check noise. Ram Parulekar, deputy general manager of Epicons, a project management consultancy , says, “Builders stick to prevailing societal norms. Concrete work is the main cause of loud sound, rest of the activity is not noisy .“ He says authorities are also mindful of residents' grievances. “We do have implementing agencies like police and pollution control board that address these issues,“ he said.
Just going by feedback that TOI's ongoing campaign has received in the past 10 days, it does appear that these agencies could do much more.
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Awaaz Foundation's anti- noise pollution campaign has been covered extensively in the Press and media since 2003.