Images of a severely polluted Delhi, toxic foam emerging out of Bellandur Lake, smoke emitting vehicles and polyethylene comes to our mind when we hear about ‘environment pollution’. Clearly, our politico-societal discourse on the environment has lately been confined to air pollution, water pollution, and plastic pollution. Noise pollution, despite being an integral and critical part of conventional environmental studies, and despite affecting individuals and society at large, has been excluded from contemporary local, national, and global environmental debates.
As such noise pollution results from many sources which include loud music, construction, electrical generators, explosions, transportation among others. It is to be noted that the origin of noise pollution is primarily anthropogenic. While some noise-creating activities are unavoidable and can be adapted to in the course of time, the noise created by irresponsible behavior and ignorance of the crowd can’t be avoided.
People can be seen complaining about air pollution caused by vehicles but they are surprisingly silent when it comes to noise pollution created by excessive honking in a traffic jam. Blowing horns excessively and unnecessarily has become the new normal. My own car driver suggested I get high-pitch and high-intensity truck horns for the car. There is an unjustified restlessness that provokes people to blow the horn incessantly, creating absolute chaos on the road.
A lot of focus has been given to water pollution created by immersion of idols during Ganesh Visarjan. However, irresponsible usage of loudspeakers rarely becomes a topic of debate, even though it affects the lives of people and animals in nearby areas. Usage of loudspeakers in political functions, religious festivals, social gatherings, and such other events creates huge disturbances in the vicinity. It is strange that there is a lot of hue-and-cry over firecrackers only in respect of air quality degradation while completely ignoring adverse sound effects.
It is unfortunate that the issue of noise or sound pollution has largely been absent from policy matters, traffic rules, norms and regulations, technology, and innovation. While registering for a driving license in India, one’s knowledge of traffic rules is checked through an online test but nothing really is told about the usage of horns. There is no strict mechanism to check overuse and enforce a penalty in case of non-compliance. Rising air pollution has urged automobile companies to change the design of vehicles to reduce emissions but at the same time, there is no innovation to check the usage of horns. It is not difficult, I believe, to make such a horn system that can prevent overuse.
The problem here is that noise pollution is different from other types of pollution in the sense that the factors and sources behind it can be allowable up to a certain extent. This blurs the line that differentiates between use and overuse. While strict legal enforcement mechanisms from the top are required at the earliest, the creation of awareness at the societal-level has to be followed as it is largely a behavioral issue.