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Above: Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh have seen an alarming increase in noise pollution

The Punjab and Haryana High Court was forced to crack down on growing noise pollution as rules were being flouted with impunity by citizens. Will it lead to a quieter way of life? 

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

The louder the better—this axiom has been gaining ground, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, be it during marriages, parties or religious functions. Despite rules governing the use of loudspeakers in terms of timings and decibel levels, the increasing noise pollution has been causing great stress to all, especially the elderly, the sick and students.

Taking cognisance of the nuisance, the Punjab and Haryana High Court put its foot down and directed the governments of Punjab and Haryana and the administration of their joint capital, the Union Territory of Chandigarh, to take strict measures. The Court has ordered a ban on the use of loudspeakers or public address systems in private and public places, including community halls, banquet halls, temples, mosques and gurdwaras. The authorities have been barred from giving written permission allowing their use 15 days before or during the annual school examinations. This was sweet music to those suffering from the noise nuisance.

A division bench of the High Court, comprising Justices Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu, also imposed a ban on celebratory firing and live shows where songs are sung glorifying liquor, drugs and violence. Directing police chiefs to ensure compliance, the bench said that “glorification of violence has given rise to a culture of gangsters in the States of Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory Chandigarh”.

The Court, however, made one exception for the use of loudspeakers and public address systems between 10 pm and midnight “during a cultural or religious festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding 15 days in all during a calendar year”, but within permissible decibel levels.

These curbs followed a bunch of petitions seeking enforcement of regulations on noise pollution and a ban on songs promoting “vulgarity” and gun culture. The Court had constituted a committee to study the issue and give its recommendations. The committee was headed by an eminent lawyer, Manmohan Lal Sareen, who is among the earliest residents of the city, and comprised Akshay Bhan and Reeta Kohli, senior advocates; Pankaj Jain, senior standing counsel, UT Chandigarh; Deepak Balyan, additional advocate general, Haryana; and Shireesh Gupta, senior deputy advocate general, Punjab.

Accepting the detailed report of the committee and making it a part of the judgment, the Court issued detailed guidelines and said that the top authorities would be held accountable for any lapses. It instructed the authorities to keep visiting and monitoring public places, private places, auditoriums, conference rooms, community halls, banquet halls, temples, mosques and gurdwaras. District magistrates, senior superintendents of police and superintendents of police of each district have been made personally responsible for compliance.

The directives state: “The peripheral noise level of a privately owned sound system or a sound producing instrument shall not, at the boundary of the private place, exceed by more than 5dB (A).” It added that persons or bodies seeking permission for use of loudspeakers or public address systems will have to give an undertaking that “the noise level shall not exceed more than 10dB (A) peripheral noise level.”

The committee had suggested that the prevention of noise pollution be made an integral part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. It recommended sensitisation of people, both officials and the general public, about the hazardous effects of noise pollution on humans, birds and animals as well as nature. It suggested sensitisation of religious institutions, marriage places and other noise-producing institutions about the adverse impact of noise.

“The authorities responsible for implementing the laws have to be warned that it is their duty to implement the laws. In this respect, the chief secretaries/advisors and DGPs should be made responsible for implementation of the law and for ensuring that the supporting authorities under the Rules perform their duties effectively,” the committee recommended. It suggested that “each religious institution should be asked to nominate a responsible person to ensure the implementation of the law and in case of any breach should be held accountable. Places which produce noise regularly, like religious institutions, marriage palaces, barred industrial units, etc, should have noise monitoring devices installed to prevent them going above the permissible limit.”

Another significant recommendation was setting up a common hotline for Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. Complaints filed with the hotline “can further be sent to the concerned authorities in their respective areas accessible on phone, WhatsApp or email. A single phone number or email ID should cater to whole of the territory and the same should be widely advertised and published on radios and in newspapers, electronic media, etc”. It recommended that the identity of the complainant should be kept confidential.

The committee’s report said that if a complaint is made, the guilty party should be let off the first time with a warning. In case of a second violation, action in accordance with the applicable rules should be taken and for a third successive violation, not only the guilty party, but the enforcing agency should be held guilty of contempt of court or would necessitate the registering of an FIR.

Going by the recommendations of the committee, the Court directed that the states of Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory of Chandigarh must ensure that “the loudspeaker, public address system, musical instrument and sound amplifier are not played during night time except in auditoria, conference rooms, community halls, banquet halls as per norms laid down under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000”.

The Court noted that pressure horns are banned throughout Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. It said: “The violators of the Rules be penalised under Rule 6 of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000” and directed that motorcycles throughout Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh be duly fitted with silencers.

It also prohibited carrying of “any firearm to a fair, religious procession/ marriage procession or other public assemblage or within the campus or precincts of any educational institution”. It further directed that no songs be played glorifying liquor, wine, drugs and violence. “The recommendations made by the Committee constituted by this Court are ordered to be implemented in letter and spirit for proper enforcement of law,” it said.

Now it remains to be seen whether the directions will fall on the deaf ears of authorities or whether they will wake up to the growing menace.

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