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No-Honking Days And Noise Barriers Aim To Quell Mumbai's Cacophony 1
According to NEERI, noise levels in Mumbai exceeded the legal limits. (Representational)Living in Mumbai requires an inexhaustible tolerance for noise. There’s the ceaseless revving of autorickshaw engines and the clamor of car horns as drivers edge through impenetrable traffic. There’s pounding and buzzing from the construction of office towers, apartment buildings and a new metro line. Drumbeats and trumpet melodies spill out from wedding celebrations and countless festivals. And it’s all topped off by bellowing street vendors and garbage trucks blasting songs.So when Sumaira Abdulali began campaigning against noise pollution in India’s financial capital two decades ago, friends, acquaintances and even her attorneys insisted it was a fool’s errand. “People told me it’s ridiculous to even try, because Indians love noise,” she says. “We’re a noisy country.”But in 2003, Ms Abdulali won a public-interest lawsuit seeking to roll back changes to environmental regulations that had allowed blaring music late into the night during the Navratri festival each year. The ruling led to a blanket ban on loudspeakers within 100 meters (328 feet) of schools, hospitals, courts and places of worship. And she has since won more than a dozen other actions both on her own and via the Awaaz Foundation (awaaz means “noise” in Hindi), which she launched in 2006.Ms Abdulali holds up a decibel meter at her home in Mumbai.The World Health Organization warns that noise pollution is a top environmental threat to human wellness, affecting not only hearing but also sleep, brain development and cardiovascular health. With increasing urbanization, ever more people around the world are exposed to unrelenting noise. And Mumbai may be the epicenter of this emerging global crisis.Ms Abdulali claims the city is the world’s loudest, though that’s a tough statistic to nail down. A study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in 2020 did find that noise levels in Mumbai and surrounding areas dramatically exceed legal limits. “Air pollution we can see, water pollution we can see, but noise pollution we can only feel and sense,” says Ritesh Vijay, the lead author of the report. “It is a slow poison.”The battle against noise has become increasingly fraught in recent years, with Ms Abdulali often confronting powerful interests who consider it an inevitable byproduct of economic growth. In a rapidly expanding city such as Mumbai, with a population topping 12 million, demand for new housing puts noise legislation in direct conflict with development plans.A sound barrier on a busy road in Mumbai.Penelope Tong knows that firsthand. She awoke one morning two years ago to ceaseless thrumming from a construction project next to her apartment at the city’s crowded southern tip. “It was extremely disturbing,” says the Mumbai native, who works as a teacher. “Every time that noise started, I would feel so agitated.”Ms Tong had heard about Awaaz from her mother, so she rang Ms Abdulali for advice. Ms Abdulali helped her contact police, file legal complaints and document noise of almost 100 decibels-which can harm human hearing over a prolonged period. Although sound barriers are required for construction projects, they’re expensive, so developers resist installing them. But after four months, the contractor on the project near Ms Tong’s flat reluctantly installed a temporary fence to absorb noise.Traffic is a more difficult problem. The loudest place Awaaz has found in the city is the JJ Flyover, an elevated highway leading to the main railway station. Noise on the road reached 110 decibels-a level that can lead to permanent hearing damage after just 15 minutes of exposure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, the city installed a 2-mile-long fence along a similar stretch of highway, and Awaaz found that it cut noise in a nearby residential area by 16 decibels. That spurred the city to require barriers for new overpasses, though the rules don’t affect older ones such as the JJ Flyover.Technology can also help in the fight, Mr Vijay says. “The worst part-it’s the honking,” he says. He suggests devices in vehicles that measure horn use, which would let officials offer quieter drivers incentives such as deductions on car insurance. Dynamic signaling, where sensors linked to stop lights detect traffic density, would improve the flow of vehicles and reduce the urge for drivers to resort to their horns, he says.Public Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Mumbai.Ms Abdulali has recruited local officials in her fight, and Mumbai decreed India’s first “No-Honking” day in 2008, with cops handing out pamphlets to raise awareness about traffic noise and imposing fines up to Rs 1,000 on offending motorists. Mumbai’s police now restrict honking every Wednesday, and many traffic constables now carrying decibel meters.But powerful officials ignore the rules when it suits them. Rival factions use festivals to win supporters, Ms Abdulali says, so their leaders often endorse raucous celebrations. As a result, decibel levels during last year’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were the highest on record.Mr Vijay says the festivals are only a temporary problem. Far more important is the longer-term impact of the day-to-day cacophony, so that’s where he believes activists should focus their energy. “In India we celebrate festivals with lots of noise,” he says. “But our background noise itself is beyond the permissible limit.”(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The DayWith Hanuman Temple Visit, Rahul Gandhi Resumes Yatra, Headed To UP

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