Municipal projects in Mumbai flout noise rules and sanctity of night hours

Municipal work in Mumbai is carried out at night in order to have the road ready for the next day’s traffic, but according to the Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rule, 2000, no construction shall be permitted during the 10pm to 6am period. When will they observe the rules?

Has anyone given thought to why TV programmes of commercial and “prime news” value are telecast during “PRIME TIME”? Why “PRIME TIME” is 7:30pm to 9:30pm and not later? That is because viewership drops drastically after 10:00pm. Why does that happen?

Most people wind up for the day and retire to getrestful sleepto prepare for the next day’s work commitments, which begins for most people at 6:00am and for the working lady of the house, even as early as 4:30am. The TV Prime Time is a good reflection of most people’s habits and needs.

Quality sleep is essential for good health and wellness and this is obtained only in a continuous undisturbed silence over a period of eight hours during which period the body and mind unwinds, relaxes to actually get a restful sleep. For the elderly, expectant women, infants and children this is even more important.

In the recent past, the sudden death of Rajan Das, CEO of SAP India, a young healthy person and a marathoner, could be rightly attributed to the ill-effect of sleep debt. This is not the only instance. Recalling readily, another case, that of Ravi Mohan, MD of a financial rating company CRISIL, who also was short of restful sleep for the busy schedule he kept. Restful sleep is denied if one is woken up during one’s sleep.

The most important point is to unwind, relax and get restful sleep and that happens in a quiet sound-free environment. A sudden noise even of moderate noise level is adequate to disturb the much-needed restful sleep.

Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rule, 2000, i.e. the Noise Rule, 2000, coming under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, has been amended a few times and the details of these are on the website of the ministry of environment and forest, Government of India.

It would also be useful to read through the Supreme Court judgment dated 18 July 2005 and subsequent order given on 29 October 2005. The order is also quite educative on various aspects of noise pollution and international practices.

It is a constitutional right under Article 21(Right to Life), for every Indian citizen to have restful sleep, which is possible only in an undisturbed peaceful surroundings.

Having said all that needs to be said about noise and need of restful sleep and right of citizen to that, let us shift gear to road traffic congestion. In order to prevent peak period traffic congestion in Mumbai, the traffic police has placed certain restrictions on movements of commercial vehicles and goods carriers. In the mornings between 9:00am to 11:30am and in the evenings between 5:00pm to 9:00pm, no goods carrier is permitted to ply on arterial roads of Mumbai.

The Traffic Police is unconcerned so long as the goods carriers do not infringe on the ‘banned’ periods.

The municipal corporation is keen to finish road repair, drain repair, water supply pipe repairs, etc, as quickly as possible, unconcerned whether while doing so, pedestrian safety has been taken into considerations or not or to that matter, noise made by construction or construction-related activities violate the sanctity of keeping 10pm to 6am night time absolutely quiet or not. Municipal corporation engineers perhaps are limited in their knowledge of the traffic restrictions and consider the 9pm to 9am of no traffic restriction as their window for loading and transporting construction materials and unloading as a done thing not to be questioned. There is no application of mind to find a solution and impose restrictions on the contractor/supplier on what not to do during the night hours of 10pm and 6am.

Although the transporting time slots available are 9pm to 9am, and 11:30am to 5pm, loading/unloading activities can also be done during the ‘banned’ periods of 9am to 11:30am and 5pm to 9pm when the goods carriers cannot ply on the roads. In addition to these hours for loading/unloading, loading and unloading can also be done between 9pm to 10pm and 6am to 9am. Thus the contractors have a fairly large time window to carry out loading/unloading and transporting construction materials.

The following Time Slots Diagram give clear idea as to what can be done and what cannot during the 24 hour period.

Assuming that the contractor adheres to the time restrictions from traffic congestion as well as no-noise-sanctity of 10pm to 6am time period, few more points need to be considered.

Any kind of construction makes noise, however much care is taken by the persons concerned. It is important to ensure that no construction and related activity takes place during 10pm to 6am unless it is of an emergency nature. Practically 95% of the municipal work or to that matter any private work can be planned and not resort to emergency actions. Even work of non-municipal construction must adhere to these norms. One may assume that painting work do not make noise; however, (a) the painters talking at night do disturb sleep and (b) the paint smell gets concentrated in certain rooms in a residence and for a sleeping person, it is very unhealthy. During waking hours, generally there is possibility of one moving away from the smelling room.
Therefore a blanket ban on construction work at the night time is of utmost necessity.

Due to high population density and closely placed residences, construction works being carried out in residential premises are ongoing almost all round the year. These are by nature, breaking of plaster or flooring or carpentry/electrical/plumbing work and most dreaded tile cutting—all generate disturbance. Infants, children, elderly and mothers of infants take a restful nap in the afternoon. Most co-operative housing societies adhere to a convention of work break between 1pm to 3pm and stop work at 7pm. This has not been charted out in the above mentioned Time Window for construction work.

For catching up with lost time due to various reasons in decision making processes, not necessarily due to right approach to development of infrastructure whose inadequacy is being considered as the bottleneck to economic development, the government or municipal corporation is keen to execute a project as quickly as possible. In this process it does not plan to reduce the plight of already harassed citizens of the city, in particular, residents of project site vicinity. The project gets delayed most times and the sufferers are the citizens. “In the interest of better tomorrow” does today have to be stressful and then continue to be stressful with other developmental activities the city takes up upon itself later? A city like Mumbai has been and will continue to be in a state of perpetual construction mode and hence the observance of Noise Rule is sacrosanct.

So long as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, exists and Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rule, 2000, is applicable, no construction shall be permitted during the 10pm to 6am period, including use of noisy pumps to dewater pits or cleaning up and washing up and chatting workers—anything that can disturb any person’s restful sleep.

The piling work of the Bandra Worli Sea Link closer to the shore could have been stopped at night hours and that would have prevented people living there, including those living in PWD staff quarters or Police quarters, not just the affluent residents from suffering disturbed sleeps night after night. The court, by not responding quickly to the petition lodged by residents of the Worli Sea Face, inflicted injustice on the said residents. Government agency itself violated noise rule.

Besides legality aspects, it is the conscience of the engineers and contractors and citizen pressures that will ensure quiet night hours and restful sleep and good health.

(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected])

Free Helpline
Legal Credit