It is official and, so, we may soon need sound reducing earplugs as part of our daily wear. According to the latest statistics on noise pollution released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Chennai is one of the noisiest places in India. The good news is we rank 5th, which means there are four greater offenders ahead of us, these being Mumbai, Lucknow, Hyderabad and New Delhi. It is of course a moot point as to whether we ought to take satisfaction in not topping the list.
As part of its survey conducted between 2011 and 2014, the CPCB installed five monitors in the city. These were at two commercial zones (T’ Nagar and Perambur), one silent zone (the Institute of Ophthalmology, Egmore), one industrial estate (Guindy) and one residential area (Triplicane). It was found that T’ Nagar, Perambur and Triplicane exceeded every possible norm and in Egmore the noise levels were comparable to a commercial area at all times of the day and night. Presumably the industrial area was the best off!
All this will not be surprising to anyone who has lived in this city. Most autorickshaws prefer to drive around with the mufflers removed from the vehicle in the belief that such an act improves fuel efficiency. All places of worship use high decibel speakers to broadcast calls for prayers, chanting of hymns and choral singing. All of these can be pleasant in their own way if they were not at ear splitting levels throughout the day. As for political meetings, these are a cut above the law and believe in using the most high decibel equipment to broadcast party propaganda by way of speeches, and more irritatingly, songs. The roads are yet another place where noise levels are at their highest. Cars, buses, two- and three-wheelers honk all the time, and the horns used are the ones that are usually banned by law. Indian drivers, and those in Chennai are no exception, cannot tolerate anyone else being on the roads when they (the drivers) are on the move. They therefore believe in hooting at vehicles, pedestrians and animals. We also have a majority who appear to think that pressing the horn is the best way to get signal lights to change and vehicles ahead on the road to move. There appears to be no awareness that continuous usage of the hooter can eventually damage the eardrums of the drivers.
The scenario at many commercial establishments and industries is much worse. The construction sector is one of the worst offenders, utilising high noise drilling equipment at all times of the day. Workers operating such equipment rarely have protective earplugs. Moreover, construction, though not allowed after 11 pm, goes on in most places throughout the night. There are, we are sure, many world class industrial establishments in the city that adhere to noise level norms but these are far outweighed by the ones that do not pay heed to such requirements. The lack of awareness among the workers in these places is also quite appalling. After all, it is in their interests that such regulations are imposed.
The way the CPCB and its State variant operate cannot be termed as pro-active either. There are no inspection squads that can stop violations. Instead, it is up to the suffering public to register complaints and then expect action to be taken. Unfortunately for most residents of this city, they would have to give up on their day-to-day activities if they have to complain about violations, which are pretty much commonplace in every aspect of life. And so we suffer in silence midst noise unabated.