Noise Pollution: Newest form of Environmental Contamination

Akshay Shandilya, Research Associate

“A day will come man will have to fight merciless noise as the worst enemy of health” – Robert Koch1.

Ever felt like murdering your neighbour for blasting music too loud? That is exactly what 78-year-old Lykouresis did in Greece on 31st may 1996. He claimed he had complained to his neighbour for months and only wanted to listen to evening news in peace. He is now locked up in high security prison. This is an extreme example of the lengths to which some people will go for a little peace and quiet. It is a sad testimony to the devastating effects of one of the world’s most pervasive yet least publicized environmental problem “Noise Pollution”, the presence of intrusive and unwanted sounds. Noise is an important environmental pollutant like noxious gases that befoul our air, water and soil. In India, the problem of noise pollution is wide spread. Several studies report that noise level in metropolitan cities exceeds specified standard limits. It is responsible for rising incidence of deafness among the inhabitants. The noise pollution is not a unique problem for developing countries like India only. The worrisome effects of noise are dangerous enough that noise problem is considered next to crime by certain countries. Several initiatives have been taken by various countries to check the noise level.

Noise Pollution: Meaning and Concept

The word noise is derived from the Latin word “nausea” which means “sound which is undesirable by recipient2.” It is defined as “unwanted sound, a potential hazard to health and communication dumped into the environment without regard to the adverse effect it may have on unwilling ears3.” Noise has also been defined by various encyclopedias as a mixture of many tones combined to a non musical manner4and also as unwanted sound or a sound which is by circumstances, disturbing5. But it is difficult to categorise “noise” in any of such categories as defined by EPA, 19866. It appears as a separate category in the series of the pollution causing agents owing its origin as a byproduct of industrialization, urbanization and modern civilization.

The World Health Organization has fixed 45dB as the safe noise level for a city7, though for four metropolitan cities of Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta and Madras have usually registered more than 90 dB and Bombay has been rated as the third noisiest city in the world closely followed by New Delhi. By the international standards, a noise level up to 65 dB is considered tolerable8.

Causes of Noise Pollution

In India, the problem caused by noise pollution is more aggravated in view of the fact that there is hardly any celebration, festival, marriage or religious function, where there is no use of loud speakers at a very high pitch continuously for a long time9. These sources of noise pollution can be categorized basically into two categories, i.e. industrial and non- industrial. The industrial source includes the noise from various industries and big machines working at very high noise intensity. Non industrial source of noise includes the noise created by transport/ vehicular traffic for example screeching tyres, squealing brakes, screaming sirens, and blasting horns and neighbourhood noise generated by various household electric, electronics and other gazettes like blaring televisions and radios. The cause of noise pollution can also be divided into categories, namely, natural and manmade10.

Control of Noise Pollution: The Legal Measures Available

It is well settled by repeated pronouncements of the Supreme Court that right to life enshrined in Article 21 is not of mere survival or existence. It guarantees a right of persons to life with human dignity. Anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quiet within his house has a right to prevent the noise as pollutant reaching him.

In State of Rajasthan v. G. Chawla11Supreme Court held that the States have right to control loud noises when the rights of such user, in disregard to the comfort and obligations to others, emerges as manifest nuisance to them. The Court further made it clear that persons are free to make noise but not to transgress the rights of others to live peacefully. In PA Jacob v. Supdt. of Police, Kottayam12, the Kerala HC declared “Article 21 guarantees freedom from tormenting sounds, which is negatively the right to be let alone, is positively the right to be free from noise. Thus, ‘compulsory exposure of unwilling persons to dangerous and disastrous levels of noise, would amount to a clear infringement of their constitutional guarantee of right to life under Article 21.”

  1. 1.      Under Law of Torts

Under the law of Torts if noise affects the person’s comforts then it would amount to nuisance, which is actionable. It is not necessary that there has been any injury to health. The law relating to nuisance caused by noise has been beautifully summarized in Dhannna Lal v. Chittar Singh ((AIR 1959 MP 240.))as constant noise, if abnormal or unusual, can be actionable nuisance if it interferes with one’s physical comforts.

  1. 2.      Under Indian Penal Code

Noise is considered as public nuisance under Sec 268 of the Indian Penal Code, 186013and thus there is a criminal liability of a person relating to his illegal omission resulting in common injury, danger or annoyance to the people in general. In Kirori Mal Bishambhar Dayal v. State14, Bhandari C.J. held “Even a lawful trade would become a nuisance if it interferes with the comfort and enjoyment of the neighbour.” For example the playing of radio at reasonably moderate velocity is tolerable but not at a high velocity which is certainly objected to by man of ordinary prudence15. Also in common law countries, noise which causes annoyance to public at large may be designated as nuisance16.

  1. 3.      Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

The provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 can also be invoked to prevent the pollution of almost all the kinds including noise pollution. Under Sec 133 of the Cr.PC, the District Magistrates or the Sub Divisional Magistrates have been empowered to make conditional orders requiring the person causing nuisance to remove such nuisance17. In Phiraya Mal v. Emperor18, a factory was working day and night, thereby causing sufficient noise to annoy the inhabitants of the locality, was ordered to be closed by the court immediately under Sec133 of the Cr.PC.

Statutory Measures to Control Noise Pollution

The Central Gov. has enacted the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, which provide for the maximum allowable limits of various environmental pollutants including noise. Entry 89 of Schedule- I of the Environment (Protection) Rules provides the noise standards for fire crackers which is nowadays a very serious cause of noise pollution.

The Central Gov. in exercise of its powers under clause(ii) of sub section (2) of sec 3, sub section (1) and clause (b) of Sub section (2) of sec 6 and section 25 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 read with Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 1986, enacted the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. The said Rules came into force on July 14, 2000. These Rules were amended by the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) (Amendment) Rules, 2000.

Section 30(4) of the Police Act, 1861 covers the problems of noise arising from music, which is one of the aspects of noise pollution. Under this provision, the Superintendents of Police are authorized to regulate the extent to which music may be used in streets on occasions of festivals and ceremonies.

By the 1987 Amendment of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the definition of “air pollutant” was expanded to include noise. Noise pollution can be controlled by various provisions of the Act. Under sec 16(2) (b) of the Act, it is the function of the Central Pollution Control Board to plan and cause to be executed a nationwide program for the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution. Under Sec 16 (2) (h), the CPCB can lay down standards for the quality of air and thus, it can lay down noise standards as well.

Third Schedule of the Factories Act, 1948 contains a list of noticeable diseases including those of hearing loss caused by noise. Entry 22 of the Schedule deals with ‘noise induced hearing loss.’ Under Sec 89 of the Act, it is the duty of the manager and medical practitioner of the factory to report the matter to the authorities in case of any person working in the factory contacts any disease specified in the Third Schedule. Further, the provisions of Chapter-IV of the factories Act, 1948, which relate to health hazards and problem of environmental pollution in industries can also be used for controlling the industrial noise.

Shortcomings

The issue of noise pollution in India has not been taken so far with that seriousness as it ought to have been. There are several shortcomings even after enactment of so many laws and provisions which need to be discussed and resolved in due course of time. The first and foremost among them is the inefficiency of the Statutes and the Rules framed. They are not comprehensive enough so as to deal with all problems of the noise pollution. Additional to it is the implementation of noise control laws because of lack of will on the part of the Executives. Also there is a lack of infrastructure essential for attaining the enforcement of these laws. The authorities responsible for implementing the laws are not yet identified. Those which have been designated do not seem to be specialized in the task of regulating noise pollution. There is lack of proper gadgets and equipments and other infrastructure such as labs for measuring the noise level19. Contributory to it, there is lack of requisite awareness on the part of the citizens. They are not fully aware about the deleterious effects of noise pollution and accept it as a part of their lives.

  1. Nobel Prize Winner, German Bacteriologist []
  2. Report of the committee on the problem of noise, Wilson Committee, U.K. 1963 []
  3. B.R. Jindal, K.L. Toky and P.S. Jaswal, Environmeental Studies, 160 (1998); In Re Noise Pollution, (2005) 5 SCC 733 []
  4. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Vol. 16 at 556 (1968). []
  5. Encyclopedia Americana, 400 (1969). []
  6. Environment Protection Act, 1986, § 2(b)-(c). []
  7. See, What is Noise Pollution, http://www.papatoto.com/article/197678576813/What_is_Noise_Pollution, accessed on October 12, 2013. []
  8. See, Bijayanand Patra v. District Magistrate, Cuttack; AIR 2000 Ori 70 at 75. []
  9. See Vijayalakshmi, Dr. (Miss) K.S. “Noise Pollution” in Martin J. Bunch, V. Madha Suresh and T. Vasantha Kumaran, eds., Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Environment and Health, Chennai, India, 15-17 December, 2003. Chennai: Department of Geography, University of Madras and Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University pp. 597 – 603. []
  10. This has been quoted with approval by the Supreme Court in the case of Noise Pollution (V), In Re, (2005) 5 SCC 733 at 751. []
  11. AIR 1959 SC 544 []
  12. AIR 1993 Ker 1 []
  13. Sec 268 of the IPC provides: “A person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to the persons who may have the occasion to use any public right. A common nuisance is not excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage.” []
  14. AIR 1958 P&H 11 []
  15. Ivour Hyden v. State of A.P. 1984 Cri LJ 16 (NOC). []
  16. Corpus Juris Scundum, Vol. 66 (1950), p.578 []
  17. George (Dr) v. State of Kerala, AIR 1985 Ker 24 []
  18. (1904) 1 Cri LJ 513 (Lah). []
  19. See, Noise Pollution (V), In Re, (2005) 5 SCC 733; See also, Farhd K. Wadia v. Union of India, (2009) 2 SCC 442 []