In the decade since Noise Rules were revised by the Union environment ministry in 2010, the anti-noise campaign has become a citizens’ movement, even prompting the police to thank Mumbaikars for making our city quieter at the end of this year’s festival season. The courts played a significant role in ensuring implementation of the Rules, which included traffic, construction and airports for the first time. School and college students participated and citizens volunteered. Advocates, including Ishwar Nankani, and advertising bodies such as BBDO India contributed expertise pro bono to expand the movement’s scope. Media houses such as the Times of India, through campaigns like Noise Annoys, expanded the movement’s reach, spurring citizens’ involvement and helping it spread to other Indian cities including Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore.India was named one of the noisiest countries in the world by WHO and Mumbai the noisiest city in India by the Central Pollution Control Board in 2011-2014. Noise from processions, including Ganpati and Eid e Milad, reduced from a high of 123dB to 113.7dB in 2018 and Diwali to its lowest in 15 years in 2019. Mumbai was the only Indian city to record such a drop, marking a significant change in our engagement with this important pollutant in the last decade and heralding a happy beginning for the challenges which still lie ahead.
Mumbai adopted multi-dimensional approaches including PIL, awareness and press campaigns. and partnerships with NGOs, lawmaking and enforcement authorities. Widespread citizen participation in awareness and enforcement drives compelled enforcement strategies and action. In 2016, the Bombay high court considered representations from 10 PIL petitioners including all aspects of noise pollution and its adverse health impacts. Between 2016 and 2019, the court regularly heard petitions on implementation of its orders from all these petitioners.Awaaz Foundation’s campaign started with the generation of primary data in 2003 and has continued to rely heavily on its own and citizens’ data including a citizens’ noise map using a free mobile phone app. This citizens’ science data was the first time citizens contributed and participated in this manner to an environmental campaign. Data provided the basis for the amended Noise Rules of 2010, court orders, and better enforcement strategies including systems to receive and act upon noise complaints by the police. It spurred the pollution control board to generate their own official data during festivals and annual firecracker testing resulting in a decrease of noise from firecrackers from 130.6dB to 116 dB. It led to the construction of noise barriers at all new flyovers through amendment of development control rules decreasing noise from 76dB to 59dB, the first comprehensive noise mapping to identify noise sources at all major Maharashtra cities including Mumbai by NEERI, and the first comprehensive study on health effects at 25 locations by NEERI, MPCB and KEM Hospital. it also led to a notification of maximum permissible limits of vehicular horns by MPCB.Despite these important changes, some noise sources remain significant challenges for the next decade as politically motivated reversals have also formed part of this journey. In 2016, silence zones, first identified in Mumbai in 2009, were suddenly de-notified by the government. The state government and the police have partnered in several awareness campaigns against honking, thereby acknowledging its seriousness. But in the absence of enforcement drives, traffic noise remains unacceptably high. Other challenges include noise from construction and religious places, which continue to disturb whole neighbourhoods.