Citizens have the right to a pollution-free environment
The citizen has the right to enjoy life in its entirety along with every permissible pleasure associated with it. The Article 21 of the Constitution offers every citizen a right to a decent environment, to live peacefully, to sleep well at night and to have leisure along with many other concomitant rights. Therefore anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quietness within his house has every right to be protected from excessive sound or noise pollution.
On the other hand, no one got endowed with any right to create noise even in his own premises which would travel beyond his precincts and cause nuisance to others living within the precincts beyond his boundary. Any noise which interferes with the normal life of anyone is nuisance.
There are some laws and a slew of judgements which uphold the citizens’ right to live in an atmosphere free from noise pollution.
What the term noise and noise pollution means
Noise is an unwanted, harsh and disagreeable sound. It is an excessive or annoying degree of sound in a particular area. The sound which causes pain and annoyance to the listeners is noise and that pleases them is music.
The disturbance produced in our environment by the undesirable sound of various kinds is called noise pollution. Therefore noise pollution is treated as part of air pollution under some of the provisions of law stated below. As noise is an air pollutant, noise pollution is entailed with a punishment under the act.
The Supreme Court, in its 2005 judgement (In Re: Noise Pollution - … v Unknown ), held that the disturbance produced in our environment by the undesirable, sound of various kinds is noise pollution.
Noise as nuisance and health hazard
Noise is more than just a nuisance. It is a potential danger to people’s health -both physical and psychological. It is a type of atmospheric pollution and a public enemy, the growing menace of which has increased manifold in the present era. Noise pollution today reaches everywhere, particularly more in the urban areas.
Studies show that the adverse health effects of noise are auditory disorders and non-auditory disorders. The auditory disorders are hearing impairment, a ringing/booming sensation in the ear, ear-ache, noise-induced hearing loss, etc. The non-auditory manifestations are headache, psychological disturbances manifested by irritability, inability to concentrate on one’s work thereby causing reduced work efficiency, disturbance in sleep and rest, and interference with speech communication
Noise has an explicit effect on the blood vessels. It makes blood vessels narrower and causes the peripheral blood vessels in the toes, fingers, skin and abdominal organs to constrict, thereby decreasing the amount of blood normally supplied to these areas. The blood vessels which feed the brain dilate in the presence of noise resulting in headaches arising from listening to persistent high noise. Prolonged chronic noise can produce stomach ulcers by reducing the flow of gastric juices and thereby changing the acidity level in the stomach.
Noise can create stress. It manifests in numerous ways, including headaches, irritability, insomnia, digestive disorders, and psychological disorders. Excessive noise makes workers tired. The dangerous effects of noise depend upon sound’s pitch, tone and exposure time.
Laws relating to noise pollution in India
A slew of laws are there in India to deal with the menace of noise pollution. But the implementation of them leaves much to be desired. No authority has the will power to implement the laws.
The laws which exist on the Statute Book in regard to noise pollution are the following:
The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000
In order to curb the problem of noise pollution, the Government of India enacted the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. Till then noise pollution was never been dealt specifically by any law.
The rules purport to regulate and control noise producing and generating sources with the objective of maintaining the ambient air quality standard in respect of noise. The rules want the State Government to categorize the areas into industrial, commercial, residential or silence areas/zones for the purpose of implementation of noise standards for different areas. They specify the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise for different areas/zones. The State Government should take measures for abatement of noise including noise emanating from vehicular movements and ensure that the existing noise levels do not exceed the ambient air quality standards specified under these Rules. An area comprising of not less than 100 meters around hospitals, educational institutions and courts, may be declared as silence area/zone for the purpose of these Rules.
The rules stipulate that a loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used except after obtaining written permission from the authority. It shall not be used at night between 10.00 pm to 6.00 a.m.
A person found violating the provisions as to the maximum noise permissible in any particular area shall be liable to be punished.
The Police officer authorised to issue a direction in regard to noise as per the noise pollution control rules is a Deputy Superintend of Police (DySP). The District Magistrate and the District Police Chief are the other officers responsible for maintaining the ambient standards of noise as per the rules.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
Noise pollution can be dealt under Sections 268, 278, 290 and 291 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as a public nuisance.
Under Section 268 of the Code, the offence of public nuisance is defined. The Section says:
“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 the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right.
A common nuisance is not excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage.”
The Sections 290 and 291 of the IPC deal with the punishment for public nuisance. The offence of public nuisance is only a non-cognisable offence and the punishment is a fine of Rs 200 only. A person will have to file a complaint before the Judicial First Class Magistrate in the area to take action under the Section. Police have no authority to take suo moto action in a non-cognisable offence.
But under Section 291 of the IPC a police officer can take action in case the nuisance is continued after an injunction to discontinue it. When there is continuance of the offence, it becomes a cognisable offence and the punishment will be for six months or with fine or both.
The Section 188 of the IPC deals with the offence of disobedience of an order issued by a public servant. The section can be used to take action on the offender of noise pollution if any direction from a public servant exists against the noise pollution in issue.
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC)
Under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) the District Magistrate has enough powers to make conditional order requiring the person causing nuisance to remove such nuisance.
Mitigating noise pollution under Kerala Police Act, 2011
Under Section 77 of the Kerala Police Act, 2011 District Police Chief can issue orders to prevent nuisance, harm, odium, damage or risk caused by noise by any instrument or in any manner to the public or to any person residing in an area, if he is satisfied that it is necessary to be done.
Any person committing an offence in violation of any of the orders of the police issued in accordance with the provisions of the police act can be punished under Chapter VIII of the police act.
Similarly, the police have enough power, under Section 123 of the Kerala Police Act, to prosecute a person for any offence made punishable under any other law as well.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
Noise has been included in the definition of air pollutant as per Section 2 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Therefore, the provisions of the act can be set in motion to address the offence of noise pollution also.
The act makes the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution control Board (SPCB), the monitoring agency and entrusted them with the task of doing everything to improve the quality of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution.
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
Although there is no specific provision to deal with noise pollution in the Environmental (Protection) Act, it confers powers on the Government of India to take measures to deal with various types of pollution, including noise pollution.
The Section 15 of the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 says whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provision of the Environmental (Protection) Act or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder shall in respect of each such failure or contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which extend to Rs one lakh or with both.
Severe punishment can be imposed if the contravention of any offence relating to environment continues.
Judgments relating to noise pollution in India
Court cases on noise pollution have not come before Indian law courts in large numbers, mainly because many people in India do not consider noise as a sort of pollution.
The people in general are not much conscious of the evil consequences of noise pollution. The level of noise pollution is relative to a person and a particular place. The law cannot take care of a super sensitive person but it usually considers an average and rational human.
Person accused in noise pollution was fined under IPC
In Kirori Mal Bishamber Dayal v The State, the accused/petitioner was convicted and sentenced under Section 290 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and was fined Rs. 50 for causing noise and emitting smoke and vibrations by operating heavy machinery in the residential area. The order of the trial court was upheld by the District Magistrate in appeal. The High Court of Punjab & Haryana upheld the decision of the courts below and dismissed the revision petition.
In Bhuban Ram and Ors. v Bibhuti Bhushan Biswas (AIR 1919 Calcutta 539), it was held that working of a paddy husking machine at night causes nuisance by noise and the occupier was held liable to be punished under Section 290 IPC.
Court prohibits air horn
In Rabin Mukherjee v. State of West Bengal the use of air horns was prohibited by the court to prevent noise pollution.
The Court observed that indiscriminate and illegal use of electric and air horn is injurious to health and noise pollution is a matter of grave concern.
Citizen cannot be a captive listener of noise
In Burrabazar Fireworks Dealers Association v Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, it has been held that a citizen or people cannot be made a captive listener to hear the tremendous sounds caused by bursting out from noisy fireworks. It may give pleasure to one or two persons who burst it but others have to be a captive listener whose fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 and other provisions of the Constitution are taken away, suspended and made meaningless.
Under Article 19, read with Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the citizens have a right of decent environment and they have a right to live peacefully, right to sleep at night and to have a right to leisure which are all necessary under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Impose strict conditions for use of loudspeakers
In Appa Rao, M.S. v Govt. of T.N., the Madras High Court (cited in the 2005 SC judgement, stated elsewhere in this write up) issued a writ of mandamus directing State Government to impose strict conditions for issue of license for the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers and for directing the Director-General, Police (Law and Order) to impose total ban on use of horn type loudspeakers and amplifiers and air horns of automobiles.
Not to use loudspeakers to injure others
In P.A. Jacob v. The Superintendent of Police, the High Court of Kerala said that the right to speech implies the right to silence. It implies freedom, not to listen, and not to be forced to listen.
A person can decline to read a publication, or switch off a radio or a television set, but he cannot prevent the sound from a loudspeaker reaching him. He could be forced to hear what he wishes not to hear. That will be an invasion of his right to be let alone, to hear what he wants to hear, or not to hear, what he does not wish to hear.
The court held that no one has a right to trespass on the mind or ear of another and commit auricular or visual aggression. A loudspeaker is mechanical device. A person cannot put his loudspeaker to any use he likes. He cannot use his machines to injure others.
Noise is a pollutant of environment
In Free Legal Aid Cell Shri Sugan Chand Aggarwal alias Bhagatji v Govt. of NCT of Delhi and Ors (AIR 2001 Delhi 455) it was held that pollution is wrongful contamination of the environment and it causes material injury to the right of an individual. Noise can well be regarded as a pollutant and it contaminates environment, causes nuisance and affects the health of a person. It would therefore, offend the Article 21 of the Constitution, if it exceeds the reasonable limit.
Directions of the SC in its 2005 judgement
The Supreme court in its judgement In Re: Noise Pollution - … v Unknown delivered on 18 July, 2005 ordered the following guidelines:-
The noise level at the boundary of the public place, where loudspeaker or public address system or any other noise source is being used shall not exceed 10 dB(A) above the ambient noise standards for the area or 75 dB(A) whichever is lower.
No one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10. 00 p.m. and 6.a.m.) except in public emergencies.
The peripheral noise level of privately owned sound system shall not exceed by more than 5 dB(A) than the ambient air quality standard specified for the area in which it is used, at the boundary of the private place.
No vehicle horn should be allowed to be used at night (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) in residential areas, except in exceptional circumstances.
The States shall make provision for seizure and confiscation of loudspeakers, amplifiers and such other equipments as are found to be creating noise beyond the permissible limits.
NGT orders a fine of five lakh for failure
In the matter of Hardeep Singh & Others v SDMC & Others dated 12/02/2019 National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders that the authorities of Delhi Government have failed to comply with the directions of the Green Tribunal and therefore directed the Government to deposit a sum of Rs. 5 Lakhs with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within a week and granted a month’s time to the authorities to file a compliance report, for the failure of the statutory authorities of the government in controlling the noise pollution as per statutory mandate of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000.
The application (OA No. 519 of 2016 before the Principal Bench of the NGT, New Delhi) was filed alleging that there were use of DJ systems, music systems, public address systems during weddings or other functions and noise was being created at odd hours adversely affecting the health of the citizens.
The Tribunal through its previous order had directed the Chief Secretary, Delhi, the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to take steps for enforcing the directions of the Supreme Court with regard to use of loud speakers, control of vehicular noise and creation of awareness. The Commissioner of Police was asked to nominate a DCP and the Chief Secretary was asked to nominate a SDM and both had to meet once in every week to take stock of the situation. They were directed to set up an exclusive website and dedicated helpline, apart from other steps.
The report dated 14.01.2019 showed that neither helpline has been set up nor website has been set up and nor weekly meetings were held, as required. That is why the above order was issued.
Following a National Green Tribunal order, Delhi government has launched a website for people to register their grievances related to noise pollution (see the news item).
Need to control religion related noise pollution
The Supreme Court in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Assn held that the Court may issue directions in respect of controlling noise pollution even if such noise was a direct result of and was connected with religious activities.
The court held that no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others nor does it preach that they should be through voice amplifiers or beating of drums and in a civilized society in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students or children having their sleep in the early hours or during daytime or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted.
The court held that young babies in the neighbourhood are also entitled to enjoy their natural right of sleeping in a peaceful atmosphere and a student preparing for his examination is entitled to concentrate on his studies without there being any unnecessary disturbance by the neighbours.
Similarly, the old and the infirm are entitled to enjoy reasonable quietness during their leisure hours without there being any nuisance of noise pollution and the rights of the aged, sick, people afflicted with psychic disturbances as well as children up to 6 years of age are also to be honoured.
The High Court of Kerala in K.R. Raveendran Pillai v Pastor Prince Koshy on 27 July, 2015 ordered that the respondents, a theological seminary, carrying on the prayers in a privately owned prayer hall, would be obliged to follow the Supreme Court directions in regard to noise pollution in its 2005 judgement scrupulously.
Allahabad High Court’s recent order
In a recent Judgement of Allahabad High court in Pushpa Sharma v State of UP & 3 others (Writ (C) No. 1216 of 2019) delivered on 20.8.2019, the High Court has given following guidelines to be followed by the state government:
i) The District Magistrate shall give adequate publicity in leading newspapers regarding this direction and Rules, 2000. He shall notify the name of the authority under the Rules, 2000 and his contact number. Detailed notice shall be put up in the offices of Divisional Commissioners, District Magistrates, District Court Premises, Police Stations, Municipal Corporation Offices, Development Authorities Offices and prominent places of the city.
(ii) A toll free number shall be provided to the citizens to make the complaints. If a loudspeaker, public address system, DJ, a Musical Instrument, a sound amplifier or any sound producing instrument is used beyond the permissible limit of sound, a person can make a complaint on telephone number 100 to police or toll free number provided by the authorities. The concerned Police of the area will immediately visit the spot and shall measure the noise level by the equipment (Noise meter application) supplied to it. If it is found that there is violation of Rules, 2000 it will stop the nuisance forthwith and shall inform the appropriate authority regarding complaint and action taken by it. The authority shall take action against offender in terms of Rule 7 of Rules, 2000. The name and identity of the complainant shall not be disclosed to the wrong doer or to any person. Under Rule 7 of Rules, 2000 an oral complaint can be made.
All the complaints received by the Police under Rule 7 of Rules, 2000 shall be maintained in a register and a copy thereof shall be forwarded to the competent authority. The action taken shall be recorded by the Police in the register.
(iii) Under the Rules, 2000, no permission for DJ shall be granted by the authority for the reason that noise generated by DJ is unpleasant and obnoxious level. Even if they are operated at the minimum level of the sound it is beyond permissible limits under the Schedule of the Rules, 2000. A DJ is made up of several amplifiers and joint sound emitted by them is more than thousand dB (A). They are serious threat to human health particularly children, senior citizens and patients admitted in the hospitals.
(iv) The team constituted by the District Magistrate shall make regular visit of their area particularly before commencement of any festival and apprise the organizers regarding compliance of the Rules, 2000 and the directions of Supreme Court and this Court.
(v) All places of the worship of all religion shall be bound by the provisions of the Rules, 2000 and directions issued by the Supreme Court and this Court. Any breach of the Rules, 2000 shall be treated to be violation of fundamental right of a citizen.
(vi) The District Magistrate/ Senior Superintendent of Police shall convene a meeting before commencement of festivals like Dussehera/ Durga Puja, Holi, Shab-e-barat, Muharram, Easter and Christmas festival with organizers and representatives of civil society, to impress upon them to observe the law strictly and in the event of failure the legal consequences that may follow.
(vii) Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of Noise Pollution Rules shall be liable for a penalty in terms of section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Non-compliance of the rules attracts the imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and fine which may extend to Rs.1,00,000/-.
It is the duty of the authorities of the State to ensure that the offences under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act are duly registered.
(viii) The State Government is directed to categorize the areas in all the cities of State into industrial, commercial, residential or silence areas/zones for the purpose of implementation of the noise standard in terms of Rule 3 (2) of Rules, 2000. A fresh exercise be conducted in the light of definition provided under Rule 2 (e) and (f) of Rules, 2000. We find that in Prayagraj the zones have been made in breach of the above mentioned Rules.
(ix) The competent authority under the Rules, 2000 and the SHO /Inspector of concerned Police Station are charged personally with the duty of ensuring compliance of the order of the Supreme Court, extracted above, the Rules, 2000 and this order, failing which they shall be answerable to this Court in contempt jurisdiction. We grant liberty to any aggrieved person to approach this court for appropriate order for compliance of the above order/directions.
Difficulty in reducing noise pollution
In India, the issue of noise pollution has not been taken so far with that seriousness as it ought to have been. There is a lack of will on the part of the Executive wing of the government to implement the laws. This has contributed to the lack of infrastructure essential for attaining the enforcement of laws.
In addition, there is lack of requisite awareness on the part of the citizens as well. The deleterious effects of noise pollution are not well known to the people and are not immediately perceptible. People generally accept noise pollution as a part of their life or as a necessary consequence of progress and prosperity.
The Statutes and the Rules framed are not comprehensive enough to deal with all the problems and issues related to the ever growing malady of noise pollution.
The authorities responsible for implementing the laws have not yet been specifically identified. Those, which have been designated, do not seem to be specialised in the task of regulating noise pollution. There is dearth of necessary personnel technically qualified to act effectively. What is really needed is a combination of technically qualified and administratively competent personnel to implement the laws.
Inadequacy of proper gadgets and equipments for measuring noise level and other infrastructure such as laboratories for measuring the noise levels is yet another issue. Due to the shortage of instruments, the policemen on the job end up in measuring sound with their ears.
Specific law needed to control noise pollution
A specific and comprehensive legislation is needed to control and prevent noise pollution. The laws now in force are not adequate. What we need is a simple, specific and detailed legislation dealing with several aspects relating to noise pollution and its control measures.
There is an equal need for developing proper mechanisms and infrastructure for enforcement of the existing laws. Those who are enforcing the laws must be trained in dealing with the menace and equipped with the requisite equipments such as audio meters for detecting the level of noise pollution.
Above all, there is need for creating general awareness towards the hazardous effects of noise pollution. The people generally lack consciousness of the ill effects of noise pollution and the benefits of noise free environment. Similar awareness needs to be created in police force and civil administration.
On the one hand the use of loudspeakers and hi-fi amplifier systems has to be regulated, on the other the playing of high sound instruments like drums, tom-toms, trumpets, bugles etc need to be regulated. The law enforcing agencies must be equipped with sound level measuring meters.
Loudspeakers and amplifiers or other equipments or gadgets which produce offending noise once detected as violating the law, should be liable to be seized and confiscated by making provision in the law in that behalf.
What a person can practically do to reduce noise
Talk to the concerned: The first thing one must do to deal with noise pollution is to try to talk to the person or institution causing noise pollution, and request them to turn-down the volume.
Make them aware of the ever growing court judgements and other directions aiming at controlling the menace of noise pollution.
Your attempt will work in your favour in some cases.
File a Police Complaint: Then you can proceed with a police complaint terming it as a nuisance under the IPC. The Station House Officer can also be asked to file a FIR under the Rule 5 and 6 of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 read with section 15 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and CrPC Schedule I Part II.
It would be better if you can call the police at the moment when the noise pollution is taking place, so that they can take stringent action on the spot. In case of repeated breach of noise pollution rules/law, the police are also empowered to seize the equipment/instrument causing noise pollution.
The Deputy Superintend of Police/ District Police Chief / District Magistrate are the proper authorities to deal with the issue of noise pollution, as per the noise pollution rules of the Government of India.
File a Writ Petition: Filing a writ petition in the High Court is yet another way to address the issue.
In a writ petition filed by one George Joseph in the High Court of Kerala alleging that the loud speaker being used exceeded noise level permitted under the law, what the High Court of Kerala (in George Joseph v District Collector delivered on 6 August, 2012) directed was that the petitioner had to raise a complaint before the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) who has the authority to grant permission to use loud speaker outside the premises.
The court added that when such complaint was filed, the police officer, after hearing the respondent as well, should take necessary action so as to ensure that noise level should be in conformity with the ambient air quality of sound norms under the noise pollution control rules.
The legal provisions and a slew of judgements stated in this write up indicate in what manner the malaise of noise pollution is being dealt with, by using police, district administration, the Magistrate Court, the National Green Tribunal, and the High Court, in a coordinated way.
Despite the existence of all these laws and judgements it is not an easy task for anyone to deal with the issue because of its social, religious and political ramifications. However, it can be seen that a strategic and tenacious attempt on the part of the complainant will yield results. It would be harder for any noise polluter to continue with pollution in case there is a combined and strategic use of all the institutional measures against the malaise.
Similarly, because of the directions of the Supreme Court and the High Court in this regard it would not be so easy for any authority to remain inactive when any complaint against this menace reaches them.