Thiruvananthapuram: Despite strict sound pollution norms, the menace continues as shrines of various faiths have begun their annual festivals. As is the tradition, more glorious the shrine is, the larger the sound systems get. Deccan Chronicle had recently listed the plight of a Thiruvananthapuram-based scientist who sought a short-term accommodation on social media to escape the deafening noise from temple festival near his house. The use of outdoor loudspeakers has been banned from 10 pm to 6 am. However, a flip through the brochures of prominent festivals will testify programmes scheduled for late at night, especially towards the conclusion of events.
While Indian Medical Association activist-doctors agree that there has been a slight reduction in the sound pollution due to awareness programmes, they say nothing can be a substitute for strict enforcement. “They say around 8,000 people in the state are employed directly by the mic operators. The season for them to mint maximum bucks are between January and April. They can survive the competition only if they provide quality sound systems. There are operators with JBL speakers, and some have even imported speakers. Bass is the main selling point,” said a temple trustee hailing from Malayinkeezhu.
Silent zone norms flouted
As per Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, loudspeakers are not allowed in a 100-metre radius of hospitals, places of worship, educational institutions, courts, public offices, and wildlife sanctuaries. “The two most famous hospitals in the state capital for childbirth are located close to known temples. Please see for yourselves whether the 100-metre limit is observed during the festival. You will be damned,” the organiser added. A recce around hospitals, both public and private, will also reveal that the no-sound boards have become out of fashion in cities in Kerala. Earlier directives given in 2014 insisted those loudspeakers should be avoided at junctions.
Some complaints say that often law enforcers appeal them to bear with the inconveniences in connivance with the sound polluters. “Before two years, I called city police control room to complain against eight dual box speakers stacked together in front of Reserve Bank of India building during a festival. The cop on the phone politely asked me why can't I adjust for a day. On being insisted, he said that a police party would come. After a few hours, I again passed by the area and speakers were still on,” said Satheesan S.
The offenders can be booked under Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, the Kerala Police Act, and the Indian Penal Code Sections 268, 290, and 291. Only box-speakers would be allowed, with each box not to have more than two speakers. Also, there was to be sufficient distance between the two. IMA officials also say that the police has not helped revenue department during various drives in the past.
Least regard for court orders
The sound pollution emanating from places of worship and spiritual healing centres has often led to legal disputes in many areas in the state. According to Mohan Mangattusserril, a native of Chittoor in Ernakulam, the sound pollution created by the Chittoor Retreat Centre often crosses the legal limits fixed by the authorities concerned. “We have raised the issue several times without any lasting solution. I don’t think the authorities concerned are serious about implementing the demands for a safe sound policy,” he said.
K.C. Sebastian of Vaduthala is also bitter about the indifference shown by the authorities regarding his complaints on the high decibel sound system used by the nearby church. “Even the court order has not been implemented properly” he said. There are strict guidelines regarding the sound systems to be used in public places and all civilized societies follow the standards, he said. “Unfortunately religious and political leaders in our country feel that the higher the decibel the better their faith. Either they don’t realise the damage caused by them to the public health or they are completely indifferent to it,” he added.
Toll-free number fails public
On the second day of sound pollution checking ordered by the district administration, no violation was found at Thiruvananthapuram city until Tuesday afternoon. A toll-free number 606-2-606 that the administration gave out to the public also was not functional. The office of Collector K. Vasuki had on Monday issued a press release to the media saying that a special squad under Assistant Collector Anupam Mishra has been entrusted with the task of curbing sound pollution. Mr Mishra was not available for a quote.
“We are just issuing warnings at certain places and have not started the actual enforcement. If they continue to pollute, we will book them,” said a senior official from Thiruvananthapuram taluk. The ruling said that a group including tehsildars, station house officers and pollution control board officer were to act against the violators. A section of officials said that the lack of availability of sound level meters (as cheap as Rs 1500) was the reason for enforcement lacking teeth.
The police officers, when asked, were unaware of mobile phone applications that could assess decibel levels. “There is a limit to what revenue officials and district administration can do. The issue of loudspeakers can be solved only if police officials book offenders,” said a doctor attached to the Indian Medical Association’s national initiative for safe sound programme.
German writer calls for awareness drive
Sylvie Bantle, an Alappuzha-settled German writer, says it’s high time a comprehensive awareness programme launched against the alarmingly high noise pollution. She keeps a small noise level measuring instrument for tracking it every day and had launched an anti-ecocide campaign a couple of years ago to make people aware of its consequences.
"I'm fed up with the sounds here ranging from 110 to 120 dB. People offer even prayers through high dB loudspeakers here. They are unknown about the intensity of the crime," she says. "During my visit to Germany, I discussed the matter with anti-noise pollution activists. They advised me to buy a sound level meter to convince people of the intensity of the noise they frequently suffer. I hope the number it displays could give out insights to them."
The State Pollution Control Board has restricted sound in industrial areas to 75 dB, commercial areas to 65, residential areas to 55 and silence zones to 50. But nobody cares. "We are living in a place where high numbers of patients suffer from high cholesterol, blood pressure, sleeplessness, and nerve pains," she says. "We have to argue with facts found by scientists to convince the people. I grew up in a religious family, but we never prayed with loudspeakers. Silence for prayers is crucial to find inner peace."
‘Dappankoothu’ during festivals vulgar: Bhargava Ram
The right-wing activists say that piling up speakers before temples and playing ‘dappankoothu’ during festivals amount to vulgarity and has nothing to do with traditions. “Mahashivaratri, for instance, is the time for silent meditation and chanting spells in your mind. Playing loud music in front of temples this time is a raunchy act and hooliganism. This applies to all temple festivals also. We have been worshipping before the advent of loudspeakers in a peaceful manner,” said VHP state leader Bhargava Ram.
“There are traditional art forms that involve singing songs for the deity on the temple premises. There are also chants that should not be said in temples. Causing sound pollution is like arming miscreants to paint a particular religion in bad light,” he added.