COUNTRY MUSIC: These doctors have been fighting the menace of noise pollution since 84
profiles doctors who battle noise
Once, on the eve of Ganesh Visarjan, a retired scientist put up a banner asking, â€œIs god deaf?â€
One Diwali night, gynecologist Prabhakar Rao called the Juhu police station to complain about the deafening noise in his area. But nobody was willing to take him seriously. It was Diwali after all. A few hours later, a bored constable arrived. â€œWhat do you mean there is so much noise?â€ the constable said, â€œI canâ€™t hear any noise. In any case, there will be noise when crackers burst. And do you have any proof that the crackers were really loud?â€
Rao had no choice but to chuckle. By then, he was used to this attitude. He is one of the busybodies disliked by law enforcement in Mumbai. Along with pediatrician Yeshwant Oke and late businessman Saad Ali, he founded the Anti Noise Pollution Committee in 1984. The group took on the government and paved the way for the first of the many anti-noise court battles. They tried some desperate measures too. Once, on the eve of Ganesh Visarjan, retired scientist T N Mahadevan and friends put up a banner in the heart of Maratha pride, Lalbaug. The banner pointedly asked in Marathi, â€œDev Behra Aahe Ka?â€ (Is god deaf ?). The banner, of course, created more noise.
After a study of Society for Clean Environment in 1985 found that decibel levels in residential areas during festivals like Diwali were over 115 decibels (busy city traffic is generally at 85
decibels) Oke and other concerned citizens filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court against the state government, BMC and the Mumbai police. The court then appointed an eight member committee to study noise pollution in Mumbai and suggest remedial measures. The Desai committee, as it was called, came up with an in-depth report on the harmful effects of noise.
Some people say that noise is a natural part of Indian way of life but the truth is that it routinely has tragic consequences. Recently, an old woman died of cardiac arrest after a cracker went off suddenly at two in the morning. The drum beating and noise during Ganesh Visarjan procession greatly agonise old people and children.
Oke was inspired to campaign against noise sometime in 1984 when he got a letter from Pachore village, near Jalgaon. The letter said that the desperate villagers were caught in the unbearable noise of secularism. In the morning, bhajans rented the air and in the evenings namaz and discourses tore the eardrums. Despite complaints, the police did not want to interfere.
Twenty years after receiving the letter, 72-year-old Oke is still going strong. Some of the old guards have died but the group is constantly replenished by new dedicated members. As the photographer makes them pose, host of the afternoon congregation, Prabhakar Rao jokes, â€œWe did not know that we are such good actors in addition to being doctors.â€ Seventy-twoyear-old Rao had a major surgery last year but he says that will not limit his fight against noise polluters.
They enjoy these meetings and that is evident when, one by one, the members troop in. Since all of them are doctors, the talk inevitably veers towards the medical problems induced by loud noise. One of the cruelest ironies of life is that noise eventually causes deafness and these doctors only know that too well. â€œIt is now established that noise pollution may rupture the eardrum, and even induce cardiac and cardiovascular changes, fatigue and also cause sleep disturbances, headache and insomnia,â€ Oke says.
After the first writ petition filed by Dr Oke and friends, came the landmark Environment Protection Act of 1986, which notified â€˜noiseâ€™ as a pollutant. It laid down a fine of up to Rs 1,00,000 or imprisonment up to five years or both
The Maharashtra government, on its part, extended the time limit for loudspeaker use from 11 pm to 11 30 pm, and gave discretionary powers to the Commissioner of Police to extend this even further. Oke and other concerned citizens filed a second writ petition against the state government. Eventually they issued a legal notice to the police commissioners of Mumbai and Pune. A direct fall out was prohibition of loudspeakers from 10 pm to 6 am. Dandiya and other such blaring festivals took a direct hit. But in 2002, the environment ministry hurriedly amended the law permitting loudspeaker use from 10 pm to midnight for 15 designated days in a calendar year for religious and cultural events.
It is official. In India, God is indeed deaf. But some old people will continue the battle.
VOICE OF INDIA
Permissible noise level in residential areas: 55 decibels
Loud Speaker: 75-115 db
Drilling Machine: 90-100 db
Vehicles-Horns: 80-84 db
Typewriter: 50-60 db