Mumbai resident and writer Anuradha Sengupta is on a mission to save her sanity from rickshaw honking, apartment parties and construction noise drilling into her eardrums at all hours. The following is her account of the serious noise problems Mumbai residents face.
You are stuck in traffic in Mumbai. A sea of vehicles surrounds you. You try to shut out noise from revved-up engines and impatient horns. The increasingly frantic crescendo, much like the grand finale from a work by Rachmaninov, makes you want to shoot little darts tinged with South American poisons at the drivers of the cars around you or pull an Ambani and hail a passing helicopter.
Interrupting your desperate escape to your happy place is your autorickshaw guy, honking. He presses his thumb on the button, holds it there and doesn't let go.
Mumbai's three-wheeled menace.
After years of traveling by public transport, I have realized it is the autorickshaw driver above all who really loves to blow his own horn at miles of insurmountable traffic spread out in front. There is no possible escape from the crushing noise in sight. Yet the indefatigable driver insists on repeated blasts of his horn, thinking this will solve the problem. What's the point? I often ask them. Is the traffic ahead going to magically part like the Red Sea before Moses and let you through? You think the people ahead are all stuck in one spot on purpose, just to bug you? A non-committal or puzzled look or a lecture all the way to your destination are the only two responses.
I sit in the midst of all the cacophony, slowly grinding my teeth, considering banging my head against the side of the seat to ease the pain. Or getting those embarrassingly large noise canceling headphones. Or writing a letter to car manufacturers. "Dear Sirs, Can we just do away with horns altogether? Are they really needed?" Apparently they are, as one autorickshaw driver I asked said, as in the absence of horns, drivers would end up running down most pedestrians.
Noise-induced hearing damage is related to duration and volume of exposure -- safe exposure being not more than 85dB for about eight hours. At 100 dB or more, damage can take place in 15 minutes. The level from which humans can begin to identify sounds is 10 to 15dB. At the other end is the threshold of pain -- 140 dB. Prolonged exposure to this level can cause pain, nausea and loss of muscle control. Noise as a form of torture has been used by governments against perceived enemies, detainees and prisoners for a long time. The Nazis employed it. In 2003, the BBC reported that the U.S. Army had used Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Barney the Purple Dinosaur's "I Love You" to torture Iraqi detainees, playing the songs at high volume over and over.
Now compare that statistic to the ear-blasting 145dB we are exposed to during festivals like Ganpati, where the level is equivalent to being close to a jet engine on take-off. Or the 127dB football players were exposed to from the thousands of vuvuzelas at the World Cup this year. No wonder that players have asked for a ban on the instrument with the drone-attack sound. Argentinean football player Lionel Messi complained about the vuvuzelas after Argentina's 1-0 victory over Nigeria. It is impossible to communicate, he said, it's like being deaf.
Maybe Messi should try visiting Mumbai sometime to get used to that feeling of being stuck inside a vuvuzela zone, night and day, and that's your life.
The growing racket against noise is not surprising since its pollution, like any other environmental issue, is increasingly being viewed as a human rights issue. In October 2009, the International Euronoise Conference was held in Edinburgh, with 800 delegates discussing noise pollution as an environmental concern. Here's why:
Silent zones of zero tolerance
Unfortunately, at this point, the only solution is zero tolerance. Whatever the event -- whether it's a festival, a neighborhood party or construction near his building, if the noise generated is breaking rules, call the police station and file a complaint. The Environment Protection Act makes noise pollution a non-bailable offense and stipulates a jail term of five years and a hefty fine of Rs 100,000.
Rercently, I had to look up the rules on noise when, late in the night, my windows started shaking due to the noise from a party next door. Under the Environmental Preotection Act of 1986, and the Rules on Noise 1989, and Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, noise is classified as a pollutant. And just so you know, the maximum decibel levels permitted are as follows: Industrial areas 70 db (10 p.m. - 6 a.m.) to 75 dB (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.); similarly, commercial areas must stay between 55 dB abd 65 dB. In residential zones it's 45 dB to 55 dB.
Now we just need to get the messafe to the 22 lakh vehicles in Mumbai, the 8,000 buses, 55,000 taxis and the swarm of autorickshaws -- god bless them.