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This article is written by Gourav Asati, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University.

“A day will come when man will have to fight merciless noise as the worst enemy of health.”

-Robert Koch

Introduction

Environmental pollution is a severe threat to the life of all living organisms. It can be outlined as contamination in the ecology of the earth with elements that could worsen the quality of human life or any other living and non-living things. In a thermodynamic sense, environmental degradation is directly proportional to the sources of pollution. Primarily there are two spheres of pollutants, biodegradable and non-biodegradable. A biodegradable pollutant often undergoes anaerobic reaction and decomposes, but the problem arises with non-biodegradable pollutants which either do not decompose or decompose at a prolonged rate. Once contamination transpires, it becomes a challenging task to degenerate it. 

Indistinctly polluted and noisy environment echoes the failure of social and political institutions, which are incompetent to quantify and avoid environmental pollution accurately. Surprisingly, the term ‘environmental pollution’ did not include ‘noise’ as pollution under any Indian legislation until an amendment in the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1987 was made to add noise as a pollutant. Later on, Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules were implemented in 2000. 

The Constitution ensures the right to a clean environment as a fundamental right under the right to life, i.e. Article 21. It stipulates that the environment and human existence are symbiotic. Primogeniture of life on earth flows in harmony with the ecosystem. The gratitude of reliance on the earth’s natural resources as a fundamental right is a sign of degrading environmental condition because the system of law appreciates only issues related to tranquility and survival of society members. However, the non-obvious changes in the daily life of people made them disinclined not only towards the environment but also to the regulations outlined to protect it. 

It’s challenging to limit the meaning of noise through a definition because each person is affected differently with every sound, a soft rhythmic sound may be useful against boredom and weariness, but the surplus of the same is harmful to human health. Noise pollution is a dreadful enemy of the human brain. Today, the cry can be heard from every nook and corner of the world against noise pollution, particularly in the urban areas because of industries, construction sites, and traffic, challenging the essentials of human existence.

Defining noise pollution

The word noise has been derived from the Latin word ‘nausea’ means ‘zero value sound’ or any unwanted noise. Some of the psychologists tried to define the term, Harrell is of them in his words “noise is an unwanted sound which increases fatigue, and under some industrial conditions, it causes deafness”. J. Tiffin defined noise pollution as “a sound that is disagreeable to the individual and which disturbs the standard way of an individual”. 

According to Britannica Encyclopedia, noise is any unwanted sound that disrupts an individual; it provides an illustration whereby the sound of a church bell may be part of rituals for one, but it is noise to another. A similar issue was raised in the case of the Church of God (full gospel) by the residents of Chennai, here the noise produced with the help of loudspeakers and other musical instruments was questioned as a constant source of the disturbance to the neighboring residents.

As observed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the term noise constitutes each type of sound, which can lead to hearing impairment or harmful to health or otherwise hazardous. It is a form of air pollution affecting the quality of life. In one of the landmark cases, the Apex Court remarked that ‘noise is defined as unwanted sound. Sound which pleases the listeners is music, and that which causes pain and annoyance is noise. At times, what is music for some can be noise for others’.

There are other Union and State legislation related to the issue of noise pollution precisely dealing with noise emitted from loudspeakers, firecrackers, vehicles, instruments, workplaces etc. Besides the Environment Protection Act and Noise Pollution Rules state that specific recourse to noise pollution can be taken under Section 290 & 291 of IPC, Section 89 & 90 of the Factories Act-1948, Rule 119 and 120 of the Motor Vehicles Act-1988, Section 87 of the Explosives Act-1986, and the law of torts. 

Notably, noise affects each individual distinctly at each place likewise at home, at the workplace or public area. It is easy to measure noise density in decibel; nevertheless, the overall exposure to the human ear cannot be determined. Thus, it is significant to note that the same sound me affect two persons differently. The definition of noise pollution is very much idiosyncratic and henceforth cannot be defined straightforwardly. 

Domain of noise pollution

Noise pollution is a handiwork of man himself; it is as dangerous as toxic chemicals. It is an enemy in disguise whose threat is expanding with the rapid growth of industrialization and technological progression in the social order. 

  • Aircraft- The sound of an airplane is soothing when heard from a far distance; conversely, it becomes unbearable at a shorter distance. The landing and take-off noise not only causes a nuisance to humans but also intimidates the animals. The world aviation community was the first to acknowledge noise pollution caused through the airways in 1968 at the 16th assembly meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The assessment of air traffic noise is extremely difficult, due to factors such as the altitude of aircraft, the noise emission capability of turbine and engine, and the atmospheric endurance. 
  • Traffic- The traffic noise is steady; it does oscillate to a greater extent in disparity with the rail and aircraft noise. Commonly the traffic noise is measured by engine noise and exhaust system. The level of noise produced between tires and road surface increases with the progression of vehicular speed and light automobiles. Unexpected acceleration and revitalizing engine in traffic could end in emissions up to 15 dB (A) that is more than ordinary emission following an even drive.

The Supreme Court’s decision to make a shift from the traditional diesel engine to CNG vehicles was sustained by the Central Research Institute (CRRI), which assisted in reducing less air and noise pollution. The below mentioned are decibels of noise produced by some of the vehicles: (Note: All sounds above 90 dB are damaging to the human ear).

Mode

Noise in dB

Luxury bus

77

Small passenger car

79

Miniature passenger car

84

Sports car

91

Motorcycle (2-cylinder, 4-strokes)

94

Motorcycle (2-cylinder, 2 strokes)

80

Table No.1- Noise Produced by Vehicles

  • Railways- The rail and roadways are identical in terms of spreading noise pollution; its consolidation remains within the parallel lines to the routes. The Indian Railways Act 1989, is silent on this critical aspect. Primarily noise generated out of rail engine is a constant source of pollution, but only at a low speed, apparently at a higher speed the noise coming out of the friction between alloy wheel and lined tracks is more than engine’s noise. A freight train travelling at a rate of 100 km/h emits 4-5 dB(A) more than a passenger at a speed of 200 km/h.
  • Loudspeakers & Musical instruments- In India loudspeakers is a common source of noise pollution, with time it became an essential part of public and private ceremonies. Especially during the religious and political occasions, a significant uproar can be heard throughout the streets of India. Indiscriminate use of loudspeakers is claimed as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(A) & 25 of the Constitution. Despite statutory restrictions on the use of speakers and prior permissions from the competent authority, no improvements can be seen amid a lack of public awareness.
  • Industries- Industrial noise is mostly mechanically emitted, any goods of human consumption undergo several stages in the process of manufacturing, and at each step of the process, and distinct machinery is utilized. Before industrialization the goods were manufactured through human labour, with the arrival of multiple self-operating machines, the human hands were replaced with the mechanical swift, making the industries more profitable and less time-consuming. Noise from the industrial area is dependent on the nature of goods manufactured; initially, noise in the vicinity remains steady for a considerable time, and then it rises to the threshold. Generally level of noise varies from 78 dB (A) to 135 dB (A) in the industries. (Note: 130 dB is the threshold to human ear consumption).
  • Construction Sites- The noise generated because of construction activities is mostly because of the equipment installation and operation. Additionally, the different activities undergoing simultaneously creates a cumulative cluster of noise on the site. Although man indulges in construction activities out of ‘social needs’ but it is precarious to humankind. The legislative body makes it mandatory to have an impact assessment report before the construction work begins, it can be obtained under the Sub-rule (3) of Rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 as a measure to ensure a hygienic environment. The below mentioned are decibels of noise produced by some of the many instruments and machines used at the construction sites:  (Note: All sounds above 90 dB are damaging to the human ear).

Instrument

Noise in dB(A)

Diesel concrete mixer

75

1.5 Ton dumper truck

75

Large rotary diesel compressor

80

Hand-held tree saw

82

Un-muffled concrete breaker

85

Rock drill

87

Tractor-scrapper

95

Table No. 02- Noise Produced by Construction Instruments

Effects of noise pollution

Public health depends upon the quality and efficacy of the health sector; it also depends upon the pollutants present in the atmosphere. The lesser number of pollutants and its sources the better would be public health; thus, the system needs to be preventive as well as curative. It is significant to note that almost 80% of the diseases are directly associated with the contents of environmental pollution. Even Julius Caesar restricted the movement of chariots in Rome to improve the quality of urban life. The constant movement of chariots would often disturb the daily activities of town inhabitants leading to delayed progression of work. 

The International Labor Organization set the ‘danger limit of 90 dB’ and ‘warning limit of 85 dB’ as hazardous to the workers; it is mentioned under Convention no. 148, in the Protection of Workers against the Noise and Vibrations in the Working Environment. The ILO defines the terms as mentioned earlier as follows: “A warning limit value that sets the noise level under which there is minimal risk of hearing impairment to an unprotected ear for an eight-hour exposure; and a danger limit value that sets the noise level above which hearing impairment and deafness may result from an eight-hour daily exposure of an unprotected ear.

Noise is a slow agent of death, similar to smog. The effects of noise pollution are not perceptible at the earliest; however, the symptoms of deafness, decreased concentration, aggressive behavior, anxiety, high blood pressure, and heart diseases can be seen at a later stage. The ultimate effect of noise pollution is the temporary or permanent reduction of working employees on sick leave or early retirement, leading to, the nation sustaining an economic loss. In total, 11 million children die every year due to contaminated water, polluted air, and noisy surroundings.

Residents living closer to airports are severely affected by noise pollution. The rough side of Fighter Jet Planes has aggravated the status quo. Research conducted near Heathrow airport in the UK, factually the busiest airport by international passenger traffic in Europe and seventh in the world, suggests that the number of inhabitants living in the vicinity being admitted into a mental hospital is more in comparison to other airports.

The loss of temporary hearing is another ill-effect of noise pollution commonly known as Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS); it can be easily experienced after a gunshot. The hearing loss initiates with the nerve impairment in the cochlea (a spiral-shaped cavity forming a division of the internal ear in humans), a protracted revelation damages a large number of nerve cells. It is also defined as auditory fatigue because of exposure to sound beyond the threshold of human consumption and is associated with a traumatic incidence suffice as noise-included hearing loss or NIHL.

In Moulana Mufti Syed Md. Noor Ur Rehman Barkati v/s. State of Bengal, it was acknowledged by the Court, that sound is a source of pollution. It has several ill-effects, including the impairment of the nervous system. In another judgment of the Church of God (full gospel) the Supreme Court observed that noise pollution might cause a disturbance in sleeping habits, hearing loss, loss in working efficiency, depression, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, irritation, annoyance, etc. A strident noise is reported in the peak market hours; it creates dizziness, tiredness, and impairs neurological speed leading to abridged mental and physical synergy.

Constitutional framework

The Indian Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to the habitable environment under the right to life as provided under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Any cerebral and bodily injury caused by environmental pollution amounts to a violation of the Article implying that Article 21 also embraces the protection and preservation of natural habitat without which a peaceful existence of human and animals is not possible. The right to life and the right to a healthy environment are conjointly associated; it is almost an inseparable bond. Citizens of the country shall enjoy the quality of life and living standards as postulated by Article 21. Any act of a second person which causes violation or infringement of the right can be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The right to equality enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution is another recourse before the law to protect the rights of the person against the state, i.e. when the state itself contributes to environmental pollution.

Article 14 was invoked in the case of Kinkri Devi v/s. State of HP, the Court observed that right to equality is sufficient ground for protection and betterment of the environment. The state cannot use its arbitrary powers to generate revenue by exploiting the environment. The failure of administrative organs to maintain ecological balance is against the national interest it amounts to a violation of the fundamental rights enunciated under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. 

Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution provides the right to practice any profession, or carry any occupation or trade or business. Majorly the polluting industries demand shelter of Article 19(1)(g) before the Court of law, without acknowledging the fact that even fundamental rights are subject to reasonable restriction. Industries cannot be allowed to generate profit at the stake of a degrading environment.

In the case of Abhilash Textile v/s. Rajkot Municipal Corporation, the Court stated that reasonable restrictions are allowed in the interest of the general public as given under Article 19(6) of the Constitution. No one can be allowed to carry on any business which may cause a nuisance to the entire society. Though a person possesses the right to carry on any trade or occupation, there is no right to indulge in business which is inherently hazardous to the society, while considering reasonable restrictions, it is primary responsibility to balance public health.

The Constitution of India has legally recognized certain social obligations, also known as fundamental duties. Article 48(A) and 51(A)(g) entail a social responsibility of citizens to preserve the forest and wildlife of the state; it can be construed as suo moto protection of the environment on behalf of the people of India. The fundamental duties are part and parcel of both the state and individual. Unhygienic places are carriers of pollutants through the society adversely affecting the health of citizens and causing the untimely death of the person. Article 48(A) cerates duty on the part of the State and Article 51(A)(g) creates the citizens to maintain the environment in its original condition.

Statutory laws

Initially, the Common Law System came with the recourse of nuisance as the only viable measure for environmental matters, however over time need for specific legislation was felt. The Stockholm conference played a key role in the development of environmental law because it stimulated most of the nations to enforce environment-related legislation. The major part of such legislations was occupied with air, water, soil and other forms of pollution without considering noise as a type of pollution.

It’s a widely accepted notion that legislators tend to formulate laws in anticipation of society i.e. on those subject matter which people demand. It is the fate of the Indian legal regime that most of its citizens were reclusive towards noise pollution with equal potential to cause harm.  

The legislature and executive bodies are not entirely ignorant towards the rapidly increasing levels of noise pollution. Rules and regulations have been framed, and laws are being enacted to curb the existing sources of noise pollution as well as high levels of noise pollutants present in the atmosphere. The law provides remedy up to the standards of an average person while excluding the extra sensitive person in society. 

  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986- the aftermath of Bhopal Gas Tragedy upheaved legal infirmities to sedate criminal and civil liability of Union Carbide within the Indian legal framework. The responsibility of other industries was also questioned underlying hazardous activities. As a responsive mechanism, this Act was implemented to serve as an umbrella legislation for issues related to environmental matters.

The Act empowers Central Government u/s. 6(2)(b) to restrict the accumulation of environmental pollutants, including noise in particular areas. Rule-making power is vested with the Central Government u/s. 25 of the Act, concerning certain subject matters such as noise. 

  • Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000- These rules were framed by the Central Government under the umbrella of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The rules are related to the use of loudspeakers and prescribing the air quality standards in respect of noise. The Pollution Control Board is designated as controlling power for the strict application of rules. Certain areas are marked as ‘silence zone’ within a radius of 100 meters from educational institutions, courts, and hospitals. Any kind of loud noise is prohibited within the silence zone. It lays down the maximum level of noise which can penetrate the atmosphere as follows:

Place/Area

Noise in dB (maximum)

Industrial zone

75

Commercial zone

65

Residential zone

55

Table No. 03- Noise Level allowed by Noise Pollution (Control) Rules

  • Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981- the Act was enacted information to the United Nations Conference on Human Environment also known as Stockholm Declaration- 1972. The legislation was implemented with an object to secure the quality of air and to curb air pollution. An amendment in the Act led to the inclusion of noise as a pollutant The State Pollution Control Boards are empowered u/s 17(1)(a) to control further spread of air pollution by heavy noise; also noise standards related to industries and vehicles are framed and brought under the jurisdiction of the Board.
  • India Penal Code, 1860- It is the official criminal code of India covering substantive crimes countering the citizens, the issue of noise pollution is included under this code as a public nuisance. The head of public nuisance is covered under IPC; it can be either public or private nature. A nuisance is an act of annoyance to another person noise pollution is essentially a known form of annoyance. Its remedy is available u/s 268 of IPC; it states as follows: “A person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy a property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right. A common nuisance is not excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage.”
  • Tamil Nadu Towns Nuisance Act, 1889- This Act empowers the local Police Authority to control the continuous flow of noise generated through loudspeakers or other sound amplifiers. Also, the State government can promulgate necessary guidelines prescribing the conditional usage of speakers. 
  • Police Act, 1861- This Act grants necessary powers to the Police to administer noise level at public places while cultural or national festivals or religious ceremonies. The Superintendent of Police possesses the power to restrict high volume sound that may cause disturbance to the neighboring residents. Here, public places include roads, streets, thoroughfares, ghats, landing places and resorts to prevent noise pollution. Any person found violating the order would be liable for conviction before a magistrate. 
  • Workman Compensation Act, 1923- The Act forms a liability upon the employer to compensate the workers when an injury is imparted in the course of employment injury includes complete deafness and hearing impairment due to excessive noise emission. The Act also aims to reduce the high level of noise within the workplace to avoid ephemeral as well as permanent damage. 
  • The Motor Vehicle Act, 1939- The Act endows powers with the Central Government to draft rules & regulation to control noise pollution which is majorly emitted by the vehicular movement, similar kind of powers have been vested with the State Government. However the government at both miserably failed to implement an effective control method, even scholars have reported that besides horns and silencers there is nothing specific to apply the laws. 
  • Factories Act, 1948- The Act states that every industrial place shall be kept clean and free from effluvia commonly known as unwanted discharge through the drain, privy and other nuisance. Possibly the term ‘other nuisance’ depicts inclusive nature of impugned legislation which also includes unwanted noise as industrial discharge. Model Rules under Factories Act, 1948 provides permissible sound contact in the corresponding place. (as shown in the table below)

Time of sound exposure (in hours)

Sound Volume Level (in dB)

8

90

6

92

4

95

3

97

2

100

1

105

Table No. 04- Permissible Exposure of Noise in Case of Continuous Noise

Threshold Sound Pressure Level 

(in dB)

Permitted Impulses 

(per day)

140

100

135

315

130

1000

125

3160

120

10000

Table No. 05- Permitted Sound Exposure in terms of Impulses per day

Judicial scrutiny

The judiciary was delegated to play a vital role while interpreting the Constitution and subservient legislations. The Court of law is assumed to provide its citizens with a peaceful and habitable environment, not only for the present generations but also for the upcoming generations. The lacunae of technological advancements, massive industrial growth, and unplanned urbanization are the main adversaries of the legal battle against pollution. Usually, the Court does not regard noise as a public nuisance until it affects a significant fragment of civilization; therefore, there is a need to cater approach of the judiciary beforehand preventing the degrading environment. However, it is to admit that the judiciary has embraced the needs of society and dynamically interpreted the environmental laws in the societal interest. 

In the case of D. Anant Prabhu v/s. the District Collector, Ernakulum and others, the Court observed that the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) (A) is not merely a right to express and disseminate an individual’s freedom over others. Still, it also constitutes a right to pass those views,’ i.e. let other people make known. The instant case fails to recognize the consent of the second person while making it obligatory to absorb the views of another person. Argumentatively the Court is implying that restriction to use loudspeakers is indiscreetly violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. 

In the case of M. S. Appa Rao v/s. The Government of Tamil Nadu and others, the Court admitted itself to be a victim of noise pollution, it quoted one of the incidents of ‘Martyrs Day’ when it became almost impossible to continue the proceedings. Bank employees were playing loudspeakers at a high volume, while the concerned authorities were silent on their behalf. The Court ordered the authorities to take appropriate actions concerning the notification issued under Section 6 and 25 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The notification was about the worsening air quality standards because of noise pollution. 

In the case of Jacob v/s. the Superintend of Police, the Court observed that a person possesses no right to trespass on another’s mental or physical health leading to auricular or ocular injury. It is essential to frame liberty within permissible limits, lest the privilege might jeopardize its real sense.

In the case of Frisby v/s. Schultz, the US Federal Court made a critical remark to emphasize the need for maintaining privacy; individuals are not obliged to anticipate unsolicited views or expression. The government must restrict such nature of freedom and way of expression; a reasonable restriction is allowed to balance with the right of the second person. 

In the case of the Church of God (full gospel) v/s. the KKR Majestic Welfare Association, the Court observed that no religion prescribes recital of prayer using voice amplifiers. The fundamental right to religion as guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution is subject to the annulment of Article 19(1)(A), which stipulates that a citizen cannot be forced to bear an unwanted sound. An individual can enjoy right only in consistence with the right of another person. 

In the case of In Re: Noise Pollution, the Court observed that Article 21 of the Constitution provides life and liberty to people; it also includes human dignity. Every person has the right to live in peace, comfort, and quiet atmosphere while maintaining the given standards anyone can restrict the irritating noise reaching him. Any other person cannot claim a right to create noise at his place, creating a nuisance to others.

In the case of Forum, Prevention of Environment and Sound Pollution v/s. Union of India and others, the Court observed that India is a diverse country it consists of multiple cultures and religions; hence a limited power of exemption concerning the use of loudspeakers during the religious festivals cab be allowed. The power of exemption is granted by the Central Government to the respective State Governments under Section 3(2)(ii) and 6(2) (b)(i) and Rule 5(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. However, the State Government must function within the provided limitations, with due care and precaution, in the public interest.  

Conclusion

The magnitude to which noise pollution interjects in the degradation of the environment cannot be neglected. Beforehand, the noise pollution was restricted to the industrial areas only, now it scratches each junction of the biosphere, predominantly the urban area. It should be noted that noise is temporary, once the source of pollution is under control, the pollution can be curbed easily. Indeed, there is not a way out similar to other pollutants, in case of toxic chemicals, researchers conduct an assessment test to quantify the maximum amount that can be exposed in nature within the restorative capacity of the earth. In the case of noise, it is openly exposed to harm the atmosphere, without any visible trace.  

The common consensus to reduce noise pollution is at a lower pedestal in comparison to other sources of pollution. The heavy use of such technology and potential industries has further contributed to the already existing sources of noise pollution, at the behest of economic cost noise generated out of machines is underestimated. The noise pollution equally affects humans and animals; the aggressive behavior of pet animals was reported at a few instances where loud music was played. 

The policy-makers repetitively failed to recognize ecological custody, it narrowed the term environment a few generic sources. Despite setting National Green Tribunal and other parallel bodies it will take consume time to adopt a comprehensive connotation of the situation. The Government shall acknowledge severe noise pollution caused under its name, for example, Indian Railways initially an Act was passed to grant exclusive powers to the concerned body, but it failed to purpose damage caused to the environment. The people residing near railway establishment are exposed to heavy engine noise serving as victims of modern society. As a protective major seeing off practice should be halted to reduce noise levels at the railway station.

Before the time lapses, the legislative and executive are required to control the expanding horizon of noise pollution with the assistance of administrative bodies. The laws and regulations related to noise shall be enforced and applied to their best, along with the awareness of the general public. Laws are meant to be obeyed by the people; otherwise, disobedience would lead to a havoc situation, and it would be the genesis of an atmosphere where human survival would become unfeasible.  


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