Is all the fuss only about azan?
The picture, taken on 2014 by Mulay, shows the members of the Mandal performing bhajans
NIRTIKA PANDITA | Fri, 21 Apr 2017-08:05am , DNAWith Sonu Nigam raising the issue of loudspeakers, it is about time to see it beyond the ambit of religion
Singer Sonu Nigam isn't the only person irked by blaring loudspeakers at odd hours of night and morning. Milind Sharad Mulay, a resident of central Mumbai, has lodged three police complaints and sent them numerous letters for the last four years against the organisers of Shri Akkalkot Swami Padayatra Mitra Mandal for playing music after 10pm. Mulay dispatched his latest letter to the deputy police commissioner in Worli at the end of March to have the Mandal uninstall the loudspeakers that it has installed on the ledge of his windows. Not only have the police not taken any action, but they'd responded to Mulay's complaints in 2016 by saying there has been no violation of noise limits.
The permissible decibel limit during daytime in India is upto 65decibels and not above 45 decibels at night, after 10pm, according to the Union Ministry of Environment. Noise above this prescribed decibel level can lead to hearing disabilities. Twenty-seven per cent of India's population suffers disabling hearing loss, according to a World Health Organisation's report in 2012. Another 48 per cent Indians over the age of 65 suffer from debilitating hearing loss as compared to just 18 per cent in high-income countries, the report adds. “People do not draw any link between noise pollution and heart disease,” says Sumaira Abdulali, environmentalist and convenor of NGO AWAAZ Foundation. “The last thing that is directly related to noise is mental health. Noise can push up adrenaline levels, which can make one angry.”
This is apparent in Mulay's case, who first lodged a complaint against the Mandal with the Shivaji Park police station in 2013. “The organisers take out a possession every year from Mumbai till Akkalkot in Solapur. Once their padayatra is over, they conduct the pooja here,” says Mulay, 49, a resident of NC Kelkar Road. Talking about how the bhajans and the aarti agonises his parents, aged 80 and 75, he has stated in his complaint that the senior citizens “suffer mental agony due to high noise”.
Mulay lodged complaints and sent letters to the senior police inspector again in 2014 and 2015, but there was no action. He then had to resort to filing Right to Information (RTI) pleas to find out what action was being taken. The RTI responses for each of his complaints revealed that “no action had been taken for the violation of Noise Pollution Rules, 2000” and also pointed that “no permission had been issued for the bhajan or the use of musical instruments for the said event by Shivaji Park police station”.
“Based on my complaints, three notices were sent to Ajay Sawant, one of the organisers of the Mandal,” says Mulay, adding that even his request for submission of noise level readings by the Shivaji Park police station to Maharashtra Pollution Control Board had not been answered.
After several failed attempts to draw the attention of authorities, Mulay wrote to Dadar assistant commissioner of police in 2016 only to receive a reply a year later stating that the “organisers had not violated the noise limits and hence no action had been taken”.
However, after procuring a copy of the report and panchanama of noise level readings, he learnt that the “noise levels had touched 103dB”, implying that the police officials had been making false statements.
Senior Inspector Gangadhar Sonawane while speaking to DNA said the organisers had the permission to conduct bhajan, maintianing that the decibel levels were in limit.
The Supreme Court has been clear in its orders that noise from places of worship or related to religious events should be treated like any other form of noise, and curbed by 10pm. Abdulali says that there is a lot of political will to not implement rules about noise limits. “The rules are made by the political establishment even though the decibel limits are fixed by the Bombay High Court,” says Abdulali and adds that while authorities are supposed to take action, “we all know that sometimes they do and sometimes they don't”. “We have to make them take action and that will happen only through public participation.”
Unfortunately, both she and Mulay agree that a majority of people are afraid to raise their voice or lodge complaints against those create noise pollution. Now that Sonu Nigam has raised his voice, perhaps people will take cognisance of the issue. And forunately for Nigam, the Shahi Imam of Lucknow, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahli, who condemned Nigam's tonsuring, acknowledged that there is a need to set a decibel limit for mosques in residential areas. “Islam says if your neighbour is not happy with you, you can't make Allah happy either,” he said.
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Awaaz Foundation's anti- noise pollution campaign has been covered extensively in the Press and media since 2003.