On Face the Nation, CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose asks a panel of experts - should festivals be exempted from noise pollution rules?
Here is the full transcript of the show:
Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, yes today is Maha Navami, the Navratri festival ends today and it is a day of festivity and celebration. But for many the loudspeakers, the music, the drums are nothing but torture and a health hazard. There are in fact strict rules on noise pollution in India and there are legally prescribed decibel levels for residential areas. But these rules are usually ignored at festival time. We are asking tonight, should festivals be exempt from noise pollution rules? Joining us tonight, Sudhir Badami, Anti-noise activist & IITian, Rahul Narvekar, Head, Legal Cell, Shiv Sena, Dr Yashwant Oke, Founder & Secretary, Anti-Noise Pollution Committee, Mumbai, Vibha Varshney, Health & Science Editor, Down to Earth.
Sudhir Badami, let’s kick it off with, do you think that loud music, drums, crackers at the festive season all of this should banned?
Sudhir Badami: I won’t say that they should be banned but the decibel should be control, and the spirit should be there for celebration and not just making noise.
Sagarika Ghose: Vibha Varshney, let me put it to you, the Bombay High Court in allowing the Shiv Sena to have its annual Dusshera celebrations in Shivaji park which is a silence zone, the Bombay High Court has allowed the celebration. It has said it is necessary have a balance in the noise pollution regulation and the rights of the citizens. Do you feel the people have the right to celebrate a festival the way they want?
Vibha Varshney: They do have the right but there is others as well who have the right to not to listen to all this. So you have to have a balance between these two.
Sagarika Ghose: You can’t enforce it. Yashwant Oke, is it actually a health hazard? Is it as bad as air pollution?
Yashwant Oke: Yeah, it is even worst than that because the ill effects of the air pollution are easily known to the people while the ill effects of the noise pollution are not yet known to the people yet. You get deafness, rise in blood pressure, disturbance in sleep, mental agitation to the extent that some people could become violent. Even the unborn babies are not escaping these noise pollution effects, the babies maybe born with defects or there maybe a pre-mature delivery.
Sagarika Ghose: But Sudhir Badami let me put the question to you, don’t people have the right to celebrate the way they want to? Are we exaggerating the noise pollution? Are the effects as bad as carbon mono-oxide?
Sudhir Badami: Well not as bad as carbon mono-oxide because carbon mono-oxide kills you in a very short time. Noise is the silent killer, so it takes time. But the important thing is that you should keep it under the norms that have been provided. And I think these levels are reasonably good levels which people can enjoy. Just to sight an example, on my way to the studio I saw a lot of celebrations going on but noise level were though exceeding the levels prescribed but they were barely audible outside. Not like yesterday’s trip where it was touching 117.
Sagarika Ghose: And you believe that noise is an assault, noise is an attack made by the political party and use the navaratris and pujas to show political strength?
Sudhir Badami: Yes it seems so, and not only human being but also a lot of animals suffer from this.
Sagarika Ghose: Rahul Narvekar, let me bring you in on the point that Sudhir Badami has made about politics, the fact is that the Bombay High Court has allowed the celebration at the Shivaji park but it has laid down very strict conditions, you have to comply with the noise regulation and you have to use the distributive systems. Now it has taken a court order to do this, shouldn’t this have come from inside, shouldn’t the Shive Sena have done this by themselves?
Rahul Narvekar: Well I think you need to differentiate between celebration and a speech being delivered. The rally that Shiv Sena has particularly is delivery of a speech by our leader to the public at large. There is no music, there is no form of noise pollution that you have to put such stringent norms of noise pollution. Yes with the legislation being in place, noise can be polluted and having said that if it is required that the residents should not be bothered I think we’ll address that. It is not our intention to cause problem to the residents nor will it ever be. So I think it is a good judgement by the honourable court which has upheld the rights of the citizens and at the same time has taken due consideration of the legislation.
Sagarika Ghose: But you know the parties like Shiv Sena have these kind of celebration, is it a kind of happy occasion or is it a kind of show of strength to have that loud speaker?
Rahul Narvekar: Who is to decide that? You mean to say that every time a person tries to speak in public or gives a speech, he is trying to show off his strength? I don’t think so. You need to know more about this rally, it is a rally which has been organised for the last 35 years. This is an unprecedented rally which is attended by unpaid people. People come there on their own will and listen to honourable Bal Thackeray. If you can’t go into the history of the rally you don’t have to say that it is an attempt to show off strength.
Sagarika Ghose: But the fact is that the court has come down very strongly on your rally.
Rahul Narvekar: The court has never said that.
Sagarika Ghose: The court has laid down very strict condition on how you can conduct that rally. Let me bring you in, the fact is millions are coming, there are many how cannot afford to go to five star hotel, the court has held the government cannot expect the citizens to celebrate festival in five star hotels only. They have to celebrate on the streets, are you making an elitist argument that when they celebrate they have to hear noise?
Vibha Varshney: It is not an elitist argument because the fact is that the rich people can go and listen to whatever they want to listen, but the poor when it is out in the open, half of the population might not want to hear it. So you are taking away there right for not to listen.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me put that to Sudhir Badami, do you think it is an elitist argument as Rahul Narvekar said that millions are coming and how can you laid down rules when many are celebrating and many other don’t want to celebrate there?
Sudhir Badami: I think people can come in large number and celebrate that but you have to see the periphery of the premise of the open ground the noise levels are well within the prescribed limits. Within a area you can rise and noise doesn’t go out, I think these are engineering aspects and I think standardise it can be done. And the same can be prescribed for all. And Mr Narverkar it not for only the Shiva Sena but also the other parties. Also around the Shivaji park they make a lot of noise, but I think these political meetings are also very legitimate but we should keep the decibels well within the limit. And I think this what the court has also directed and this time I see even the Shiva Sena has done this. Two years back also I suggested the same thing to Shiv Sena but didn’t come back to me to ask how this can be done. But this year they are sincerely doing it.
Sagarika Ghose: Ok, so the Shiv Sena is sincerely doing it. But Rahul Narvekar do you still feel that it is unfair to politicians to lay down these noise regulations? It doesn’t happen everyday, occasionally these events happen, so do you think it is unfair and anti-democratic to lay noise regulations?
Rahul Narvekar: Well if there is a blanket restriction then definitely it will be unfair and it is infringement of the fundamental right of expression. And I think the court has taken a cognizance of this fact and have given a reasonable order. So I think the court has played a very balanced role and kept in mind the fundamental rights of the citizens.
Sagarika Ghose: But let me put to you, isn’t it a slippery slope? Today you’re objecting to noise tomorrow you’ll object to incense, you may object to arti, you may object to candle, shouldn’t the festival be allowed to their natural self?
Vibha Varshney: It could be but it’s harming people, if it’s not harming people
Sagarika Ghose: So you have done a study shoeing that it is harming people?
Vibha Varshney: We have done a study but it is on the noise level n different parts of Delhi. We have found place where the noise levels are over 100 decibels and these are place where the people are sitting through out the day. If you expose to noise levels of 85 decibels eight hours a day you could lose quite a lot of hearing.
Sagarika Ghose: So you are saying that in the poor areas the health hazards are even higher?
Vibha Varshney: Nobody has ever done a study. So how do we know the level of deafness in the country?
Sagarika Ghose: And the deafness could be the direct result of the noise?
Vibha Varshney: Yes, 50 per cent of the cases are set to be related to noise.
Sagarika Ghose: Sudhir Badami are you saying that these festivals should be moved out of the cities?
Sudhir Badami: No, no, I said it should be held where people are but we need to modulate our voice levels.