Transportation systems especially in cities have been riddled with problems of congestion, pollution, and sustainability. While air pollution is certainly a hazard globally, transport systems generate excessive noise which causes health hazards. The issue of noise pollution is exacerbated by the congested cities and correspondingly congested roads. With the severity of effects ranging from stress to cardiovascular diseases, noise pollution control becomes an important factor in public policy. Existing regulations as part of larger legislations indicate that noise regulation is a result of multiple bodies. A more robust regulatory framework is required to target the issue of noise in our cities.
Noise Pollution & Its Consequences
It is well known that transportation systems cause air pollution chiefly through vehicular emissions. However, they also pollute the environment in other ways, and one such manner is through noise. The Air (Pollution & Control) Act, 1981, defines noise as an air pollutant. Noise pollution is thus an important issue and having comparable adverse effects.
Noise can be seen as any disturbing, loud sound which causes discomfort and annoyance. It is well understood that it causes stress and fatigue. It can lead to poor concentration, loss in productivity, and communication difficulties for those who end up losing sleep over it. Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise can lead to more serious outcomes – that long term consequences include cardiovascular diseases and metabolic effects on the body are well documented (Eriksson 2018).
While sources of noise are many, vehicular noise pollution is a major contributing factor. This issue is especially pronounced for those living near airports, railway tracks and busy roads. The sounds of lorries and trucks throughout the night keep many awake often causing prolonged deprivation of sleep.
Current Regulatory Framework in India
The first legislation to look at to understand the regulatory framework for noise pollution is the Air (Pollution & Control) Act, 1981, which defines noise as one of the air pollutants. It gives power to the State Pollution Control Board to set emission standards on vehicles which must be ensured by authority in-charge of vehicle registration under §20 of the Act.
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVA), provides for the conditions to be fulfilled for registration of vehicles. In this regard, it has provisions for suspension or cancellation of vehicle registrations in case of violation of provisions of the Act or any rules thereunder.§56 mandates a certificate of fitness used for gauging the eligibility for registration. The certificate could be one issued by the relevant authority as per the rules under the Act. Hence, the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, (CMVR) are correspondingly an important tool of regulation.
Rule 119 under the CMVR provide guidelines for the horns that have to be mandatorily installed in vehicles. The issue of noise is addressed here with prohibition on multi-toned horns and those that have shrill or harsh sounds. It also requires vehicles to be fitted with silencers to muffle the voice from the exhaust engines. But the most important provision is that of requiring vehicles to meet the noise standards as set out under Environment Protection Rules 1986 (EPR). Part E in Schedule VI of EPR lays down the noise limits at the manufacturing stage of all passenger and commercial vehicles, ranging from 81 dB to 90 dB.
Vehicular noise pollution also finds mention in the Noise Pollution Rules, 2000, made under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. It empowers the State government under Rule 3(3) to take measures to reduce noise pollution due to vehicular movement and blowing of horns. Rule 5A also prohibits blowing of horns in silence zones or residential areas during night.
Opinions of Sectoral Experts
Sectoral expert, Prof. M.K Ramesh very astutely points out that while there are multiple legislations governing noise pollution in India, vehicular emissions are kept in check by police at the ground level. Hence, along with the Noise Pollution Rules, 2000, and the MVA, 1988, the Police Act, 1861, plays a crucial role in the regulatory regime of noise pollution.
Under §31 of the Police Act tasks the police with maintaining order in the public roads. However, most provisions and penalties relating to this function mainly address road blocking, dangerous activity and indecency.
This duty of the policy also extends to peaceful movement of processions without causing harm or blocking of roads. Here, the issue of noise as a product of procession functions is addressed. However, the act does not give explicit enforcement powers, such as imposition of fines, to combat noise pollution on the roads. Instances such as challans on high noise emissions are hence a product of subsequent laws through notifications or orders by the government (Hindustan Times 2016).
Regulatory Policy Solutions & Suggestions
It is evident from the foregoing sections that there are multiple regulations in place for noise pollution. While the Noise Pollution Rules, 2000, enable the state government to take suitable measures, the Central Pollution Control Board under the Air Act, 1981, also has the power to regulate noise. Moreover, since the theme of transport noise is the focus, the MVA, 1988, also plays a role in determining the permissible decibel limits. There is therefore a multiplicity of regulations which can be a source of confusion.
Moreover, what is clear is that noise pollution is exacerbated by honking of vehicles. While there are limits on decibel limits, there is a necessity to curb unnecessary honking. This is provided for under §194F(a)(i) of the Noise Pollution Rules, 2000, which makes a person punishable for sounding the horn needlessly or continuously or more than necessary. Monetary penalties to the tune of ₹1000 and ₹2000 are set for first and subsequent offence, respectively.
Further notifications by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the National Green Tribunal have put limits on the decibel limits and prohibited multi-tone horns. However, even with penalties in place, violations are common. To combat this, innovative methods have been employed in some states.
The Mumbai Police had introduced a “Punishing Signal” experiment in some of its busiest traffic junctions. The deterrence was that if the honking exceeded the permissible decibel limit, the traffic signal would reset (The Guardian 2020). This would make vehicles wait longer at red signals if operators would unnecessarily honk. Hence, there was a curbing regulation of honking since people would refrain from honking unnecessarily to save time. This experiment also has been followed up in Bangalore which is known for its highly congested roads and long traffic lines (Times of India 2020). This is a type of regulation which works as a form of penalty which is borne by all at the signal. But since it affects all, people regulate themselves to avoid the extra waiting time.
Another example of a different kind of regulation is that by Chandigarh police. There was a “Make Chandigarh Honk-free” campaign which was majorly organised near schools and hospitals (The Indian Express 2018). The campaign was supported by volunteers as well as police personnel that stood near signals persuading people not to honk. Posters and boards were put up to sensitise people towards the issue. Hence, this is a kind of regulation where community awareness and collective action were employed.
The regulations and the regulatory practices of bodies aim at reducing noise pollution for the well-being of all. However, what has been noticed are the lacunae in provisions which do not chart out a clear mechanism for regulation of noise since multiple regulatory bodies are at play, resulting in multiplicity of notifications.
For more effective control, the Noise Pollution Rules, 2000, must be made more robust with vehicular noise emissions given priority it merits. The designation of a specific regulatory body within the Central Pollution Control Board could help in better management and focussed regulation.
Out of the box thinking can help in persuading people to reduce unnecessary honking. To promote self-regulation, behavioural change is necessary and moral impositions through community awareness and collective action can help stop unnecessary honking. Lastly, if the foregoing approaches are ineffective, traditional carrot and stick approaches can be used to regulate behaviour in this sector.
(Anjali Nambiar is a second-year student in the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy, National Law School of India University. She holds an honours degree in microbiology and is interested in gender rights, social welfare and migration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Retrieved from https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1389/1/a1981-14.pdf
Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989. Retrieved from https://morth.nic.in/central-motor-vehicles-rules-1989-1
Ellis-Peterson, Hannah. 2020. ‘‘Honk More, Wait More: Mumbai Tests Traffic Lights that Reward the Patient Driver’. The Guardian. 5 February 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/05/honk-more-wait-more-mumbai-tests-traffic-lights-that-reward-the-patient-driver (accessed on 13 June 2020).
Eriksson, Charlotta, Pershagen, Goran & Nilsson, Mats. 2018. ‘Biological Mechanisms Related to Cardiovascular and Metabolic Effects by Environmental Noise’. World Health Organisation. https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/378076/review-noise-bio-effects-eng.pdf (accessed on 15 June 2020).
Express News Service. 2018. ‘‘Make Chandigarh Honk-Free’: Unnecessary Honking Inside 3 Hospitals to Invite Police Action from Today’. The Indian Express. 5 December 2018. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/chandigarh-honk-free-unnecessary-honking-inside-hospitals-to-invite-police-action-5478936/#:~:text=FROM%20WEDNESDAY%20onwards%2C%20the%20Chandigarh,%2D32%20and%20GMSH%2D16. (accessed on 13 June 2020).
Hindustan Times. 2016. ‘Up to Rs 7,000 Fine for Pressure Horns without Silencers’. 21 July 2016. https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi/up-to-rs7k-fine-for-pressure-horns-vehicles-without-silencers/story-6xZt4FyqTOdxlEE4uXJNVM.html (accessed on 15 June 2020).
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Retrieved from https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1798/1/A1988-59.pdf
The Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000. Retrieved from https://upload.indiacode.nic.in/showfile?actid=AC_RJ_83_1096_00002_00002_1563872532183&type=rule&filename=noise_rules_2000.pdf
The Police Act, 1851. Retrieved from https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2264/1/A1861-5.pdf
Times of India. 2020. The TImes of India. 2 February. Accessed July 20, 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/bengaluru-cops-to-do-a-mumbai-install-decibel-linked-signals/articleshow/73878695.cms.