Noise pollution : Time to act seriously

Publish: 9:41 PM, November 26, 2020 | Update: 9:41:PM, November 26, 2020

One can sense the arrival of winter in Bangladesh by the erection of wedding lights and pandals in almost every single street. At all times of night, these can be accompanied by the pulsating soundtrack of a gaye-holud functions. While extravagant celebration marks the joyous union of families, loud music can drive our neighbour mad. But they have to bear the tortures silently. And why only weddings ? What about the gala religious mehfils or urs and the like that proliferate in winter time to torture the eardrums of those who happen to be unlucky to be located near to such events at their residences ? They suffer even worse.

But what are the legal provisions to protect the rights of non-celebrating residents at times like this? It appears that most city dwellers do not know what qualifies as noise pollution, or what to do if the neighbours insist nonchalantly “the show must go on”. Arnab Islam, a resident of Adabar residential area, said he had been disturbed by a holud function held on the rooftop of his building recently. “We did not ask the organizers to stop playing loud music since we considered this as social program for a day, ” he said. But the issue has been brought into focus by the death of Md Nazmul Haq, a 65-year-old former public servant who was beaten to death on January 19 after protesting against loud music played in a gaye holud program at the building where he lived in R K Mission Road.

His son, Nasimul Haque, claimed that he had asked the building’s caretaker to request the organizers to stop playing the music as his father was a heart disease patient who had been unable to sleep. The general secretary of the Flat Owners’ Association for the building, Altaf Hossain, then called the son via the caretaker when his father Nazmul Haq came down. The organizers swooped on the son. When the father tried to stop them, they beat him up, too. Nazmul Haq fell to the floor and died on the way to hospital.

M Abdul Matin, chairman of Bangladesh Poribesh Bachao (BAPA), said persistent noise polluters are unaware of the problems they are creating in the lives of others. “Musical instruments are played not only in gaye-holuds, but also in many local parties, religious and social programs, seriously hazarding others’ lives,” he said. The situation is more common in areas of Mohammadpur, Mirpur, Kalyanpur, Azimpur and the Old Town. You may protest, but whether the decibels (dB) will be reduced depends on the willingness of the people who are creating the noise.

“The police should learn about legal provisions and take actions based on the law instantly. But at the moment there is no comprehensive and specific law and penalties for noise pollution. There are some rules only under a wider environment protection act that nobody takes seriously. Thus, there should also be a dedicated cell in the local ward commissioner’s office where people can complain easily and receive a response. Maisha Binte Habib, a resident of Senpara in Mirpur, said most people have no idea about the permissible limit for noise pollution. “Last month, there was a 31st party organized on a roof of our neighbouring building where some local political people and their supporters played loud music,” she said. “We could neither sleep until midnight, nor ask them to stop out of fear. We didn’t know if police could help us in this regard.”

Excessive noise suffered by human ears not only leads to gradual hearing loss. It also creates other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, palpitation, loss of concentration, headache, irritability, insomnia and other forms of physical and mental sicknesses.

The government makes a move in some cases to address issues of significance to people. But one step forward is more than offset by five steps taken backwards. There is no other way to explain the inexcusable lethargy in pushing through a piece of legislation considered as vital from the standpoint of public health to which the government seemed responsive , made an initiative to create it and then for no good reason has been sitting on it. The government decided years ago that it would make laws to control noise pollution. Accordingly, the draft of an Act was prepared that recommended Taka 10,000 as fine and maximum six months of imprisonment for producing noise higher than the permissible limits. But for unknown reasons the act in draft form has not progressed since then.

Unlike in other areas, there are probably no powerful and influential vested interest groups who would want such a legislation frustrated . Why then, this foot dragging with this act which can be of great value to millions and millions of people who are progressively losing their hearing abilities from the rising noise pollution ?

The Society for Assistance of Hearing Impaired Children (SAHIC) conducted a year long survey at 21 spots to find out the impact of noise pollution on the residents of Dhaka city. The survey result showed that hearing ability of 76.9 per cent of the surveyed people was damaged from continuous noise pollution. A private university and a non governmental organization jointly surveyed 20 spots in Dhaka city that included residential areas and ones with academic institutions and hospitals where the least noises are desirable.

In these areas, sound levels should be within 45 decibels but the survey found average sound level 75 decibels near Oxford International School in Dhanmondi, 86 decibels near Birdem hospital and 76 decibels near Viqarunnessa noon school and college . In what should be a purely residential area at Kylanpur, the survey found the average sound level at 80 decibels. The average sound level in other residential areas comes near to this level or even surpassed it in some cases.