Does any religion require sound amplification for its propagation?

Indians are exposed not only to noises common to most countries, but in addition face misuse of loudspeakers during religious events and ceremonies, writes YK Kalia

India is a secular state. This means that every person has right to freedom of religion. It is undeniable that Article 25 of the Constitution provides for freedom of religion as a part of fundamental rights of Indian citizens. This right includes right to propagate and preach one’s belief and religion. When viewed from this perspective, the ostensible religious places are within the ambit of the law in propagating their religious beliefs, of course, within the constitutional constraints. Needless to say that noise pollution is an environmental hazard. Under the constitution every citizen is mandated not to forget that each man’s right stops where another person’s right begins. In other words, duties and rights go hand in hand. Legally it is our bounden duty to keep the environment conducive and habitable for all.

Religion from time immemorial has been both a blessing and curse to mankind. The positive side of it is that it helps regulate the behaviour of man. Man, by nature, is mean if left to his own devices. The Holy Bible says that the heart of man is desperately wicked. Religion with its teachings of life after death, punishment here on earth and in the life to come, the judgement of God who is adjudged as the creator of the universe to which all mortals must give an account of how they spent their lives helps to checkmate the excesses of man as the Thomas Hobbesian state of nature would be the lot of man.

On the flip negative side, it has been the cause of wars — we recall the Holy Crusades between the West and the Middle East in the thirteenth century. Even the Jihad or Holy War which brought the Sokoto Caliphate into existence was fuelled by religious considerations. It also leads to fanaticism as some members of some sects can do all manner of asinine things for their leaders. Some can die for their leaders and some can sacrifice their careers and other things that they hold dear to please their leaders. Religion is a two edged sword and should be approached like the toss of a coin which has the head and tail.

Agreed, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions but there are also several others even though they operate marginally. There are also atheists and non religious people whose rights to peaceful coexistence must also be respected. There is the need to stop religious conflicts and this can only happen if the rights of people of other faiths are safeguarded. We also need to go the extra mile to understand different religions as that way we will all be able to live in peace and harmony. The governments must show zero tolerance for religious bigots who don’t care about the rights of others in their ‘zeal’ to impose their beliefs on others.

It is suggested that religious bodies should site their places of worship within approved layouts. Residential areas should not be used for place of worship. Secondly, sound proof technologies should be utilized to curb noise pollution. And finally, religious tolerance should be imbibed by all. Law is the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties. Noise intrusion into the homes or office of citizens can be construed as a form of violation of their rights to privacy, which is constitutionally protected under Article 21. When a land owner or occupier’s activity seriously and persistently violates his/her neighbour’s enjoyment of their property, he/she is said to constitute a nuisance to such neighbours and such culprit can be sued for damages. However, where the occupier’s/owner activity is within the provisions of the law, such occupier’s or owner is free from violation of the right to privacy.

The emerging persuader issues of religious orthodoxy and misconceived activism in creating noise pollution in the society is becoming dangerously and anachronistically alarming for the very existence of every member of the society. The ostensible religious places have become the purveyors of alarming propagandist sermons and religious activities exploiting the use of various high wired microphones, amplifiers, megaphones amidst loud drumming, causing noise pollution and deafening noxious discomfort to other people’s peace in the neighbourhood. These multi-dimensional acts are in flagrant contravention and breach of the Fundamental Human Rights of the affected citizens, which are guaranteed under the much touted Constitution. Those religious activities, if at all to be done, should be peacefully conducted in such a way as not to breach peace of others. Such noxious noisy activities, capable of vitiating and tending to cause breach of peace and health hazards to others, must be eschewed.

In recent time, many religious houses, in the name of worshiping God have resorted to using public address system to attract people to their centres, thereby resulting to noise pollution in the society. Noise pollution is actionable under our law of tort. Nuisance is a form of tortious liability which may attract damages upon being proved in a court of law. Nuisance is when you constitute a sort of inconvenience to residents in the neighbourhood. It may be in form of passing nauseating liquid, odious gas or polluting the environment with unbearable noise which is the subject matter of our discourse here.

The absence of strict laws in India, especially in some south Indian States, where churches, mosques and temples have been built in residential areas. These religious places have loud speakers and in most cases non-sound proof doors and windows. The noise that emanates from there in most cases is enough to wake up the dead to put it sarcastically. The religious leaders do not care about the well being of the residents around their self propagated holy places. They carry on with an ‘I don’t care attitude’ because they know nothing will happen to them. Who dares sue a ‘Man of God?’ Doesn’t some holy books say ‘Touch not my anointed and do my Prophet no harm?’

Another menace is the practice of some itinerant preachers who preach on the streets in the early hours of the morning. In most cases, you don’t need an alarm clock to wake you up as these self appointed missionaries scream on top of their voices and in some cases with a microphone to preach the Gospel of ‘Salvation.’ They don’t care about the well being of the residents of the areas that the preached in. They sometimes share tracts indiscriminately not caring to first find out the religious inclination of the proposed beneficiaries of it.

When one raises an eyebrow to that, the religious adherents are quick to accuse you of “waging war against God”. This is not so. One must take into consideration the plight of the aged, the sick and other vulnerable members of the community who are being affected negatively by noise pollution. It leads to stress as many people in the neighbourhood cannot have sound sleep after a hectic day at work. Religion propagation goes beyond noise making. There are other effective ways of propagating one’s religious tenets than noise making. I humbly want to urge government at all tiers to put in place effective legal frameworks to regulate this unbecoming act of noise pollution.

Protagonists of each and every path of worship project it to be a path leading to harmony, peace and happiness but never of creating noise pollution. Ironically, however, the worst part is that noise pollution is spread in name of religious freedom which actually is shocking in a civilised and educated society like ours. Since the amplification of sound is a very recent scientific innovation, therefore, any use of such sound amplification, does not find any mention in any holy scripture. An unambiguous inference can thus be drawn that the use of loud speakers and DJ to promote any path of worship and/or religion, can be considered as an essential religious practice.

WHO has introduced noise pollution in big cities as the third type of dangerous pollution after air pollution and water pollution. Noise pollution in urban areas and its side effects for the whole society have led many researches to focus on this issue in public places and clinics. Religious places of most of faiths are some noise sources in cities. Noise pollution and its special effects are of importance and significance due to the frequency of religious ceremonies in the country and the attendance of different groups of people (classified based on their age, gender, health level, and individual susceptibility). Hence, reaching to a special standard of sound pressure level for implication of religious aims and provision of individual health seem essential.

Indian Supreme Court has proactively issued guidelines and so has the World Health Organization (WHO) which has also provided guidelines for exposure to noise. These organizations have determined average daily exposure of the community (8 hours) as 75 dB in the “A” network and average 24 hours of exposure as 70dB. Human exposure to loud noise may cause definite side effects like permanent and temporary hearing loss and undesirable physiological and mental effects. World health organization has estimated that, about 278 million in the world are suffering from trivial to serious auditory problems. Ecological pollution in recent decades has drawn global attention more than before. Various factors may pollute the environment; one of these undesirable and unwanted factors is noise, which influences the quality of life. Some of the symptoms of these responses include the discharging of adrenaline hormone and a change in blood pressure and heart beat. Other sound effects are pain, headache, vulnerability, exhaustion and fatigue, aggression, stress, insomnia and digestive problems.

In the year 2012, the Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences. New Delhi conducted a comprehensive survey and published it as “Community Noise Pollution in Urban India” in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine in 2014, as per which rapid urbanization has led to various public health challenges, including environmental pollution. Noise is regarded as a pollutant under the air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Noise is an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems. It is increasingly becoming a potential hazard to health, physically and psychologically, and affects the general well-being of an individual. Excessive noise interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home, and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

Noise pollution control is overshadowed by other types of pollution such as air, water pollution, largely due to lack of awareness about its health implications. Epidemiologic studies on hearing and noise exposure are also lacking although it is the most common preventable cause of sensori-neural hearing loss. Fortunately, hearing loss due to community noise pollution is largely preventable. Preventive and control measures have been recommended, viz., stringent implementation of legislation, efficient engineering products, proper planning of roadways, considering their proximity to human settlements. Above all, awareness of the public and stakeholders is the key component in the prevention and control of community noise pollution.

Before the development of Environmental jurisprudence, the Common law remedy of Nuisance was the only means to remedy. Nuisance need not be public nuisance and interference with a person’s personal comfort is enough, though at least in general, a private nuisance pre-supposes possession and control of land from which nuisance proceeds. Whether noise constitutes a nuisance is a question of degree. Yet where the noise is caused maliciously, same will be taken into account. Noise emitted from religious reasons/institutions is one of the major causes of noise pollution arising out of social activities, but movement against noise pollution, has not been effective, as most people in India do not consider such kind of noise as pollution but a part of routine and socio-religious life. In order to curb noise pollution, it is essential that people realize dangerous consequences of noise and to take some remedial measures.

Noise by definition is unwanted sound. What is pleasant to some ears may be extremely unpleasant to other, depending on a number of psychological factors. We in India are exposed not only to noises, common to most countries, but in addition we have to face misuse of loudspeakers, in festivals like Navratri Garba, Ganesh Chathurthi, loud and shrill bhajan sandhyas and early morning azaans, noisy crackers, etc, which are firmly put down in most countries. People of this great country belong to different castes and communities, have
belief in different religions and customs and celebrate different festivals. We are tolerant for each other. There is unity in diversity. If relaxation is allowed to one there will be no justification for not permitting relaxation to others and if we do so the relaxation will become the rule. It will be difficult to enforce the restriction.

With growing awareness in the country about the hazards of noise pollution, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India framed Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules, 2000 came into force, whereby the state governments were asked to demarcate areas under their jurisdiction into industrial, commercial, residential or silence areas/zones and to ensure that the noise level in each of these areas stayed within the outer limits specified by the ministry. At the same time, it was also stipulated that no one could use loudspeakers and public address systems without prior permission from relevant authorities. It was also provided that “A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used at night (between 10.00 p.m. To 6.00 a.m.) except in closed premises for communication within”.

Those who make noise often take shelter behind Article 19(1)A pleading freedom of speech and right to expression. Undoubtedly, the freedom of speech and right to expression are fundamental rights but the rights are not absolute. Nobody can claim a fundamental right to create noise by amplifying the sound of his speech with the help of loudspeakers. While one has a right to speech, others have a right to listen or decline to listen. Nobody can be compelled to listen and nobody can claim that he has a right to make his voice trespass into the ears or mind of others. Nobody can indulge into aural aggression. If anyone increases his volume of speech and that too with the assistance of artificial devices so as to compulsorily expose unwilling persons to hear a noise raised to unpleasant or obnoxious levels then the person speaking is violating the right of others to a peaceful, comfortable and pollution-free life guaranteed by Article 21.Article 19(1)A cannot be pressed into service for defeating the fundamental right guaranteed by Art. 21.

In an organized society, rights are related with duties towards others including neighbours. This was reiterated in Church’s of God wherein the Apex Court came down heavily on the practice of beating of drums and use of loudspeakers early in the morning in places of worship. The Supreme Court has ruled that no religion prescribes this practice. In a landmark judgment, the Court held that no religion prescribes or preaches that prayers are required to be performed through voice amplifiers or by disturbing peace and tranquility. ‘In a civilized society in the name of religion, activities which disturb old, infirm persons, student or children having their sleep in the early hours or during day or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted’. The Court added that ‘it should not be forgotten that babies in the neighbourhoods are also entitled to enjoy their natural right of sleeping in a peaceful atmosphere. Rejecting the contention that by this order the church’s fundamental right under Art. 25 would be violated, Mr. Justice Shah said that the fundamental right to preach religion was subject to public order, morality and healthy. ‘No religion prescribes or preaches that prayers are required to be performed through voice amplifiers or by beating of drums’.

Earlier, our Constitution did not have any provision for noise pollution. By the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976, Article 48-A and Article 51-A. Thus, India became one of few countries which promise to protect and improve the environment. Our Constitution, by way of Directive Principles, imposes a duty on every citizen to help to protect our environment. The Court has made it clear that persons are free to make noise but not at the cost of violating other’s rights. As soon as it becomes a nuisance, it loses its constitutional freedom. it will also be violative of  Article 51-A.

We just limit our outrage to social media. We need to start getting more assertive and stop tolerating such incidents in our society. Religious activities should be treated in the same way DJ events happen in the city. Shut them down if they are being conducted beyond the permissible time limit. If the nation can conduct debate for days on ridiculous statements made by some politicians, then it can surely conduct a debate on civil and social responsibility. It can definitely discuss filing a complaint about noise pollution. It’s time that miscreants are not allowed to exploit the religious sentiments of people, no matter how absurd they are.

Now don’t start with the whataboutery argument, pointing fingers at other religions to defend Hindu religious activity, because it’s a fact that all religious institutions take everything for granted. Church, mosques or temples — all of them are equally guilty of this. The government, acting through law enforcement agencies, doesn’t bother to regulate and enforce the law because these institutions are potential vote banks. Public functions that don’t follow the norms of noise pollution are the main contributors to noise pollution, followed by insensitive people honking on the road for no reason at all.

Use of loud speakers in religious ceremonies and rallys is increasing day by day to unbearable volume and madness. Use of western music, hard beat songs which is not related to god, and which does not imply any worship of god, any praise of god, any prayer of god. Banquet Halls built in residential areas creating sound pollution by which event students around that area cannot concentrate on their studies. Traffic jams for hours because of these religious processions were being carried out on busy roads, is now becoming an established pernicious practice. The law is clear on noise pollution. The Supreme Court order clearly states that there cannot be loudspeakers used in a silence zone. The question then is, why is no action taken against temples & mosques & Churches using loudspeakers? And it is not just about a religious ceremonies. I am against noise pollution of any type. So even if there is a bhajan or kirtan being sung that is causing noise pollution, if there is a political rally being taken place that is causing noise pollution, action needs to be taken against the perpetrators.

Not that the Legislature and the Executive in India are completely unmindful of the menace of noise pollution. Laws have been enacted and the Rules have been framed by the Executive for carrying on the purposes of the legislation. The real issue is with the implementation of the laws. What is needed is the will to implement the laws. Treatment of the problem of noise pollution can be dealt under the Law of Crimes and Civil Law. Civil law can be divided under two heads (i) The Law of Torts (ii) The General Civil Law. The cases regarding noise have not come before the law courts in large quantity. The reason behind this is that many people in India did not consider noise as a sort of pollution and they are not very much conscious about the evil consequences of noise pollution. The level of noise pollution is relative and depends upon a person and a particular place. The law will not take care of a super sensitive person but the standard is of an average and rational human being in the society.

Highlights of the instructions issued under Noise Pollution Rules, inter alia, state that no permission can be granted by any authority for use of public address system in the open after 10.00 pm and before 6.00 am. No exception is possible. Any person or organization making noise on amplified system after 10.00 pm is violation of the law and the person can be prosecuted under the provisions of the EPA 1986. Authorities [Sub-divisional Magistrates] can only grant permission for use of amplified public address system in the open for the period 6.00 am-10.00 pm. Only the District Magistrates can grant permissions after 10.00 pm, provides the function is within closed premises. District Magistrates cannot grant permission for use of any amplified public address system after 10.00 pm.

After permission has been procured the sound must fall within the sound limits prescribed in the Noise Rules. This can be measured on a sound meter. Any person violating the Rules, is liable to be arrested under the stringent provisions of the EPA. If the authorities do not act to stop violation of the Noise Rules, the citizen who has filed a complaint can approach the Court with his complaint after 60 day’s notice and the Court can initiate prosecution. The rules also fixes different ambient air quality levels for firecrackers and industrial activities.

In 2002, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had issued guidelines to control noise pollution. Therefore, those who are spreading noise pollution through loud speakers and  DJ and advocating the same are actually simply rabble rousers having neither any understanding of any religion, nor any meaningful knowledge of much touted constitutional provisions nor they have any respect for Constitutional (Supreme) Court guidelines, nor any reverence for the fundamental rights of other fellow citizens guaranteed to them under Article 21, to live in peaceful, clean and healthy environment. It is unfortunate that the executive succumbs to the infamous machinations of vexatious PILs, frivolous accusations of state interference in religious freedom et al. notwithstanding the Supreme Court guidelines on noise pollution.

Way back in 1952 the Bombay High Court in State of Bombay v Narasu Appa Mali asked authorities to regulate the use of loudspeakers during night when the Ganesh and Navratri festivals were being celebrated. The Court ordered the strict implementation of Environmental Acts. Nobody can object on celebration of festivals, but their means of celebration must not disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood was the strict view of the Judiciary.

The Noise from use and bursting of fire crackers came up before the, the Calcutta High court, in Burrabazar case. Taking a highly activist stand, the court put severe restriction on the manufacture, storage and selling of fireworks even in the absence of specific legislation for controlling noise creators. The High Court relied on the Constitution, specifically Art. 19(1)(a) read with Art 21, to hold that citizens have a right to a decent environment, right to live peacefully, right to sleep at night and right to leisure, which are all the necessary ingredients of the right to life.

In Free Legal Aid Cell v. Government of NCT of Delhi the Court directed for the establishment of separate courts to deal with the problem of noise pollution. Further all District Magistrates should be empowered to issues prohibitory orders under Sec. 144 of Cr.P.C to limit the hours for the use of loudspeakers. The Court directed the Delhi government to restrict the use of firecrackers in religious festivals, marriages, processions etc.,. It shall be the duty of the area SDM’s to see that Noise Control Rules are strictly adhered to and any default in this regard will be treated as misconduct, liable for disciplinary action besides action for disobeying court’s order.

After Narasu Appa Mali case in the Bombay High Court, nothing much was said or done about regulating noise from religious establishment due to sensitive religious sentiments prevailing in the Country. The Court have approached the subject of regulating noise in religious institutions with caution and reverence and most of the decision have been based on the bare facts of the case without the Judiciary touching any aspect about the religious practices. In Biranagana the Court upheld that power of the Sub-Divisional Magistrate under Sec. 34-A of the Police Act 1861 to direct a religious organization against the use of microphones, which might hinder the rights of citizens to lead a life of peace and tranquility.

The Kerala High Court in P. A Jacob asked a Christianity denomination not to use loudspeakers on the ground that it would disrupt the law and order and it might be inconvenient for the other group of citizens. Rejecting the petitioners claim of freedom of speech and expression, the Court held that ‘recognition of the right of speech and expression is recognition accorded to human faculty. A right belongs to human personality and not to a mechanical device. Relying on various scientific studies which shows the negative impact of noise on human beings, the court held that the compulsory exposure of unwilling persons to high noise level would amount to a clear infringement of their constitutional guarantee of right to life under Art. 21. The right to a safe environment including safe air quality and noise level was implicit in the right to life guaranteed according to Art. 21 of our Constitution.

The fact that one individual approached the Court cannot be dismissed on the ground that only the petitioner was affected. In Sayeed Maqsood Ali v The State of M. P, a cardiac patient, residing near an Eye Hospital and by the side of a Dharmashala and near an educational institutions complained to the Court that the State run Dharmashala which accommodates various categories of people and many a religious function was accused of producing noise at high level. The Dharmashala was given on rent for the purpose of holding marriages and other functions through out the year and the noise was continuous. In the Dharmashala, loudspeakers were utilized where music was played at a very high pitch creating disturbance to the petitioner and other persons residing in the said locality. The Court upheld the complaint of the petitioner and ordered the restricted use of such public places.

In the recent judgement of Forum, Prevention of Environment & Sound Pollution v. Union of India and Anrs here it was discussed that The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 have come into force w.e.f. 14th February, 2000 Rule 5 of these rules imposes restrictions on the use of loud speakers/public address system. Exception of this rule is that the state government can permit use of loudspeakers on public address system during any festive or religious occasion for certain time (10:00 P.M. to 12:00 midnight) with certain limitations. Only people’s movement might bring about this and it is time that people take this challenge. Here are some steps which can be impact fully helpful in solving the problem of noise pollution with relation to religion.

A question arose before the Supreme Court in the case of State of Rajasthan v. G. Chawla (1959) that can State Legislature control loud noise and make it punishable? The apex court said that since this right is not absolute, State “has the right to control loud noises when the rights of such users, in disregard to comfort and obligation to others, emerges as a manifest nuisance to them. The state can make laws in the exercise of its power under “Public Health and Sanitation”. Thus the state can control loud noises and music and it is within permissible limits of the Constitution.

It has been observed by the Courts that Articles 25 and 26 are not absolute and are subject to certain restrictions. Even the Ramleela and Akhanda Path cannot be allowed to produce excessive noise which forces a man to listen to unwanted noise. Since the right to profess and propagate religion under article 25 also relates to health, the noise caused by loudspeakers can be checked in the interest of the health of the public. The Delhi High Court in case of Free Legal Aid Cell Shri Sugan Chand Aggarwal v. Govt. (NCT of Delhi) (2001) declared: “…noise can well be regarded as a pollutant because it contaminates the environment, causes nuisance and affects the health of a person and would, therefore, offend the right to life, of Article 21, if it exceeds reasonable limits. it was also observed by the Court that the effect of noise on health has not yet full attention of our judiciary…”

In the case of Acharya Maharajshri Narendra Prasadji v. State of Gujarat, it was held that: “No right in an organised society can be absolute. Enjoyment of one’s rights must be consistent with the enjoyment of rights of others. …. one fundamental right of a person may have to coexist in harmony with the exercise of another fundamental right by others and also with the reasonable and valid exercise of powers by the State in the light of the Directive Principles in the interests of social welfare as a whole. “

The Court has declared that the withdrawal of the permission to use loudspeakers did not amount to the denial of freedom of speech and expression. On the other hand, the use of loudspeakers amounts to a violation of the right to life which includes the right to clean, pollution-free environment and freedom from noise. Exposure to unwilling/undesired noise may cause various kinds of diseases and disorders in the human body as scientific studies have proved this beyond doubt.

During the case of Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v. K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Assn, 2000 CriLJ 4022, The Supreme Court held that the Court may issue directions in respect of controlling noise pollution, even if such noise was a direct result of and was connected with religious activities. It said, “Undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others nor does it preach that they should be through voice amplifiers or beating of drums. In a civilized society in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students or children having their sleep in the early hours or during daytime or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted.”

SC in the case of Noise Pollution (V), In re, (2005) 5 SCC 733 (this case has since been reopened) has held as under: “150. Several interlocutory applications have been filed in this Court, wherein it was pleaded that restriction on bursting of firecrackers in the night should be removed during Diwali. Similar relaxation was demanded for other festivals. These applications highlighted practices prevalent in some of the western countries wherein such relaxation is allowed. We don’t think it’s justified to grant any such relaxation. Indian society is pluralistic. People of India belong to different castes and communities and have belief in different religions and celebrate different festivals. We are tolerant of each other. There is unity in diversity. If relaxation is allowed to one there’ll be no justification for not permitting relaxation to others. If we do so, relaxation will become the rule. It will be difficult to enforce restriction.”

The Calcutta High Court has held in the case of Moulana Mufti Syed Mohammed Noorur Rehman Barkati v. State of West Bengal as under: “Accordingly, it cannot be said that for giving Azaans the applicants should be allowed to use microphones in the early hours of the day and that is before 6 o’clock in the morning. Azaan is definitely an integral and essential part of the Muslim religion, but use of microphones is certainly not an integral part of Azaan.” The issue is perhaps still pending before the Supreme Court.

Maidan Incident (In Re:) the Apex Court dealt with the issue of privacy as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and held that the right to sleep has always been treated to be a fundamental. The Apex Court held thus: “327. Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival. Sleep is, therefore, a fundamental requirement without which the existence of life would be in peril. To disturb sleep, therefore, would amount to torture, which is now accepted as a violation of human right.”

Rule 5 of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 read:

Restrictions on the use of loudspeakers/public address system:

A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used except after obtaining written permission from the authority. A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used at night (between 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m.) except in closed premises for communication within, e.g. auditoria, conference rooms, community and banquet halls. 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 during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious occasion of a limited duration not exceeding 15 days in all during a calendar year.”

The courts have held that while Azaan is definitely an integral and essential part of the Muslim religion, use of microphones is not an integral part of it. It is apparent that a citizen whose fundamental right to sleep peacefully is disturbed, has the right to complain. This issue, in my considered view, is less about religion and more about mutual respect and civic sense. Even on Diwali, restrictions have been placed as it has adverse effects on the state of noise (and air) pollution. The same standard should be adopted for all other religious and cultural expressions.

Suggested remedial measures

  1. Making suitable amendments in relevant laws making it mandatory to use only traditional Indian Musical Instruments in religious congregations. Western music bands should be prohibited in and around religious places and in religious events. Sound must be kept at such levels/decibels, which is confined only to the venue and where the musicians and the listeners can only catch it. It should be strictly prohibited to reach the entire neighbourhood and/or the street/road.
  2. The music played or lyrical compositions sung should only be connected with the specific purport of that congregation. Film songs, vulgar songs, double meaning compositions, etc. have to be prohibited. Organizers of events using functions/convention halls should not let sound from installed sound amplifiers come outside their premises Should not allow any religious / social ceremony to take place on public roads at peak traffic timings, or put up any sign boards for diversion of traffic. Also prohibiting children under age 15 to participate in such loud events.
  3. No religious rally, no political rally, no marriage function, should make noise near a school building, hospital and tuition centres and residential areas. That means, there is no place in India to carry out such things. A limit on number of religious groups who can come on street for any festival. Allow only those groups who agree to adhere to noise pollution restrictions. Disciplinary committees of young volunteers should be encouraged to control the bad habits and bad behaviour and provides safety to woman folk.
  4. Manufacturing, distributions, stocking and selling of any sound equipment, which has the capability of amplifying sound beyond the legally permissible outermost levels in decibels, be permitted. Inventories of all such previously manufactured/sold/in use stocks should be confiscated and destroyed under supervision of competent authority. Any person/organization/religious entity violating this mandates, be severely punished.
  5. Prohibition on number of tents per area and limits on sound levels. No religious congregation/ceremony/function, except State functions, should be allowed on street, without having adequate control on traffic jam, and controlling the crowd.
  6. No police force can effectively implement any aspect of the law or any judicial directive without the public, by and large, accepting it. If the people feel that it goes against them, they take to the streets. Any political or legal mandate is effective, or not, depending on widespread acceptance of what it stands for.
  7. Court directives must be implemented and to get the results of themconducted a series of meetings with groups and organisations, Ganpati mandaps and other religious groups of the authorities should be held. There should be a complete ban on bursting sound emitting firecrackers between 10 p.m. And 6 a.m. It is not necessary to impose restrictions as to time on bursting of colour/light emitting firecrackers.
  8. No one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10. 00 p.m. And 6.a.m.) except in public emergencies. The peripheral noise level of privately owned sound system shall not exceed by more than 5 db(A) than the ambient air quality standard specified for the areas in which it is used, at the boundary of the private place.
  9. The States shall make provision for seizure and confiscation of loudspeakers, amplifiers and such other equipments as are found to be creating noise beyond the permissible limits. No horn should be allowed to be used at night (between 10 p.m. And 6 a.m.) in residential area except in exceptional circumstances.
  10. There is a need for creating general awareness towards the hazardous effects of noise pollution. The State must play an active role in this process. Special public awareness campaigns in anticipation of festivals, events and ceremonial occasions whereat firecrackers are likely to be used, need to be carried out. The NGOs can also make a big difference by extending a helping hand to state and by creating awareness.