Citizens' Issues
Politics of noise or how norms are drowned in the cacophony

Making noise is a political statement just as speeding in a sports utility vehicle with number plates in local script. It is the “dare-you-stop-me” challenge which has to be countered by sticking to the rule book. People must not take this issue lying down. They must approach the environment secretaries in the respective state governments and also the secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests

In Maharashtra, efforts are on by the government through notification and to some degree follow up by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to reduce noise levels during festivities such as the recently-concluded Ganesh immersion, Eid, Navaratri, Durga Puga immersion, Diwali, Christmas and New Year. A mild campaign starts, even by educating school children on the noise issue. There is a formal course on environment science in schools from the 5th Standard. Then why are our festivities noisy?

Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 clearly categorises noise levels at four zones—residential, commercial, industrial and silence zones. The decibels (dB), the unit of measuring noise levels, for daytime and nighttime are specified—the nighttime levels are lower by 10 dB(A) generally and by 5 dB(A) for industrial areas. The noise rules specify that nighttime starts at 10PM and ends at 6AM. Rest of the time is daytime.

 The noise rules themselves have undergone a change over the past 22 years. In the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, the Environment (Protection) Act was enacted in 1986, commonly known as the EP Act (1986). Noise was not addressed to any degree of detail until 1989 when World Health Organization (WHO) norms were adopted as studies showed that noise had health repercussions not limited to causing hearing impairment. This rule specified nighttime as 9PM to 7AM. Meanwhile, the police continued to treat noise as of a mere nuisance value and 11pm was specified by various forces as the start-time of night. With much gain in knowledge and requirements of our social norms and much Parliamentary debate and 'public consultation', the year 2000 saw the emergence of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, commonly known as Noise Rules 2000. This relaxed the 9PM to 7AM nighttime period and the redefined period was specified as 10PM to 6AM.

To ensure that peace prevailed to enable people to get restful sleep and the noise levels during the nighttime were kept within the specified limits, further restrictions were imposed on activities like blowing horns, playing noise-emanating musical instruments and using loudspeakers in unenclosed areas. These restrictions were valid for silence zones irrespective of day or nighttimes. The Rules also specified that an area not less than 100 metres from a hospital, educational institution, court or religious place falls under a silence zone.

The Rules 2000 underwent amendments to cater to some situations not anticipated at the time of finalisation. Some were getting stricter while one major concession or relaxation was introduced in the amendment on 11 October 2002. What that is, is best to quote the amendment: while the portions in normal font are of the original rules, the ones in italics were made in the 11 October 2002 amendment and the ones in bold were made in the 11 January 2010 amendment.

5. Restrictions on the use of loudspeakers/public address systems and Sound Producing Instruments.

(1) A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used except after obtaining written permission from the authority.

(2) A loudspeaker or a public address system or any sound-producing instrument or a musical instrument or a sound amplifier shall not be used at night time except in closed premises for communication within, e.g. auditoria, conference rooms, community halls, banquet halls or during public emergency.

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-rule (2), the State Government may subject to such terms and conditions as are necessary to reduce noise pollution, permit use of loudspeakers or public address systems and the like during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during a calendar year. The concerned State Government shall generally specify in advance, the number and particulars of the days on which such exemptions shall be operative.

(4) The noise level at the boundary of a public place, where loudspeakers or public address systems 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.

(5) The peripheral noise level of a privately owned sound system or a sound producing instrument, shall not, at the boundary of the private place, exceed by more than 5 dB (A) the ambient noise standards for the area in which it is being used.

[Complete Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 as amended up to the last amendment of 11 January 2010 can be accessed at].

Having placed before you the background, one can now look at the politics of noise. Most contentious is the clause 5 (3) which grants permission to use loudspeakers etc., even during the night hours till 12 midnight. What is being forgotten is that it asks the state government to take all measures to keep noise levels low, i.e., within the stated limits.

The government has been sensitising Ganesh Mandals and social organisations and the police too have not been lagging behind. That is one of the reasons that one sees the loudspeakers not blaring and switched off at 10PM. If this has been the case, why did the four larger Ganesh Mandals in Pune not adhere to the 10PM shutting-off of the loudspeakers?

Going by the arguments put forth by the representatives of these Mandals, they feel that it is an infringement on their rights to continue with traditional celebration of the Ganesh immersion, notwithstanding that the tradition never existed in this form and that the method of celebration causes untold misery to the people living along the route of the immersion procession and last but not the least, the Noise Rules have come about in 2000 and the relaxation of use of loudspeakers till midnight came about in 2002, superseding 'tradition' or any other rule that existed up till then, including the police rule on noise. These representatives went on to argue that they would ask the government of Maharashtra to allocate one full night for such immersions.

Following an extract from the Supreme Court ruling is sufficient to let not only these Mandals but also the State government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Union government that such tampering with the rule will not stand the provisions of Article (14) and Article (21) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court Ruling of 11 October 2005 extract says it all:

Looking at the diversity of cultures and religions in India, we think that a limited power of exemption from the operation of the Noise Rules granted by the Central Government in exercise of its statutory power cannot be held to be unreasonable. The power to grant exemption is conferred on the State Government. It cannot be further delegated. The power shall be exercised by reference to the State as a unit and not by reference to districts, so as to specify different dates for different districts. It can be reasonably expected that the State Government would exercise the power with due care and caution and in public interest. However, we make it clear that the scope of the exemption cannot be widened either by increasing the number of days or by increasing the duration beyond two hours. If that is attempted to be done, then the said sub-rule (3) conferring power to grant exemption may be liable to be struck down as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. We also make it clear that the State Government should generally specify in advance, the number and particulars of the days on which such exemption will be operative. Such specification would exclude arbitrariness in the exercise of power. The exemption, when granted, shall not apply to silence zone areas. This is only as a clarification as, this even otherwise, is the position of law.

With the oncoming Navaratri and Diwali festivals, there is a need to talk on this subject. Diwali also brings in air pollution aspects. We shall take these issues up in the run-up to these events.

Before closing, I must express my appreciation of efforts of the Pune Police to (a) sensitise the public and Mandals on noise pollution and (b) charge-sheeting the people who violated the rule even as they were told to stop making noise after 12 midnight. Though Mumbai was by and large noise-free, there were violations here too and it would be interesting to know whether the Mumbai Police took any strong measures to dissuade future noise-making by anyone.

 [Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]


TRAI clears SMS confusion; exempts certain services

Following concerns raised by telecom lobby COAI on limiting the SMS entitlement to 100 per day, TRAI today exempted various service providers, including the dealers of telecom operators, e-ticketing agencies and social networking sites, from the new limit of one hundred SMSes per day per SIM

New Delhi: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) today exempted various service providers, including the dealers of telecom operators, e-ticketing agencies and social networking sites, from the new limit of one hundred SMSes per day per SIM, which was imposed to block pesky calls and messages, reports PTI.

On 5th September, after much delay, TRAI had come out with recommendations to stop pesky calls and text messages from 27th September, ordering that no access provider (operators) shall permit the transmission of more than 100 SMSes per day per SIM.

"... Hereby directs all access providers to exclude the following persons from the limit of one hundred SMS per day per SIM-dealers of the telecom service providers and DTH operators for sending request for electronic recharge on mobile numbers," TRAI said in a statement.

The directive from the regulator had come in the wake of concerns raised by telecom lobby COAI on limiting the SMS entitlement per SIM to 100 per day.

It will also exempt e-ticketing agencies for responding to e-ticketing request made by its customers, SMSes from social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn and GooglePlus to their members in connection to activities relating to their accounts, based on verifiable options; and agencies providing directory services, such as Justdial, Zatse, Callezee, Getit and Askme, TRAI added.

Earlier, COAI had asked TRAI to reconsider its recommendation to limit the number of SMSes per SIM to 100 per day, saying that such a regulation may pose a potential challenge to the 'fundamental rights' of an ordinary user.

There are several instances where SMSes are an important mode of communication. There could be a situation where a customer has exhausted the limit and suddenly some emergency occurs, COAI had said.

Further, this limit will not also be applicable on 'blackout days' (festive occasions), when the customer is free to send as many messages he wants.

In the case of post-paid telephone numbers, the access provider shall not permit more than 3,000 SMSes per SIM per month, the TRAI recommendations had said.

However, TRAI said, "The access provider shall, before excluding the persons, obtain an undertaking from such person that he shall not use the said facility in any manner for sending commercial communications."

Subscribers have the option of choosing to be under the 'Fully Blocked' category, which is akin to the 'Do Not Call Registry'. If a user selects the 'Partially Blocked' category, he/she will receive SMSes in categories chosen.

For registering under the fully blocked list, a customer has to SMS 'START 0' to 1909.


Anil Ambani exploring setting up ‘Reliance Bank’

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the company in Mumbai, Anil Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Capital, said growth has so far been achieved mostly through the organic route. Hinting at the inorganic route for future growth, he added: "Our strategy is now to unlock value from all our major businesses for the benefit of our 1.3 million shareholders"

Mumbai: Industrialist Anil Ambani today said that his group's financial services arm Reliance Capital will explore all possible opportunities to enter the banking sector and plans to unlock value in all its major businesses, reports PTI.

The banking entity of the group could be called 'Reliance Bank', Mr Ambani told the shareholders of Reliance Capital.

Replying to shareholders' queries on whether the company would consider the issue of bonus shares and a special dividend, Mr Ambani said he would take these proposals to the board.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the company here, Mr Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Capital, said growth has so far been achieved mostly through the organic route.

Hinting at the inorganic route for future growth, Mr Ambani said: "Our strategy is now to unlock value from all our major businesses for the benefit of our 1.3 million shareholders."

Earlier this year, Reliance Capital signed a deal with Japan's Nippon Life for sale of a 26% stake in Reliance Life Insurance for over Rs3,000 crore in the country's largest-ever finance services sector foreign direct investment (FDI) transaction.

Recently, Reliance Capital had also signed a memorandum of understanding with Nippon Life for evaluating collaboration opportunities-including a strategic partnership-across all Reliance Capital-promoted financial businesses.

Mr Ambani said that the talks for a stake sale in its asset management business to Nippon were also in advanced stages.

In addition, the company would consider a stake sale in other businesses, like general insurance, as well.

Reiterating the group's interest in setting up a bank, Mr Ambani said that banking was a new growth opportunity and it would evaluate opportunities to enter this high growth sector.

It was keeping track of all regulatory developments on this front, he said, adding that significant under-penetration of financial products and services in India would continue to create immense opportunities for future growth.

The company also plans to take its asset management businesses to other emerging markets and would look at further expansion of its wealth management and private equity businesses, Mr Ambani said.

"From a single business of nominal scale in 2005, we are pleased to have established multiple businesses across the entire spectrum of financial services," Mr Ambani said.

He said that Reliance Capital has become the country's largest non-banking finance company (NBFC), with a net worth of nearly Rs8,000 crore, more than two crore customers and 8,000 offices across the country with a staff strength of over 18,000 people.

"Despite being a late entrant, Reliance Capital has achieved leadership position in all its major businesses in a highly competitive business environment," he said.

At the AGM, Reliance Capital shareholders also approved a proposal for sale of an up to 25% stake in the company to institutional investors through Qualified Institutional Placement (QIP) of securities.

Addressing the shareholders, Anil Ambani further said that Reliance Capital would continue to pursue a conservative approach on its debt profile.

The proceeds of over Rs3,000 crore from the stake sale in Reliance Life would be used to repay and reduce debt, he said.

He further said the company would focus more sharply on each of its businesses in the next five years and would strive to figure among the top-three players in each of the segments on various parameters.

At the AGM, the shareholders also approved proposals like adoption of full-year financial statements, declaration of a Rs6.50 per share dividend for the 2010-11 financial year and re-appointment of Amitabh Jhunjhunwala and CP Jain as directors of the company.

Shares of Reliance Capital rose by 3.48% to Rs402.90 in noon trade on the Bombay Stock Exchange.


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