History of Anti-Noise Pollution Laws in India

One of the reasons behind why India is one of the more noisy countries in the world today is the legal framework surrounding noise within our nation. A glimpse at the history and overall evolution of the legal perspective towards noise in India can afford an understanding of how we have been dealing with noise throughout the past century or two.

The Earliest Legal Perspective of Noise

It was in the year 1860 that Chapter XIV was added into the Indian Penal Code, a clause which was specifically dedicated towards ensuring that human activities encroaching upon environmental safety and health were punished. Even though there was no apparent mention of noise in this early legal clause, it ushered forth the first national legal ramifications for human acts that polluted the environment. As we can see today, it doesn’t seem like noise was considered as one of the major pollutants that were implied in this case.

A Public Nuisance is Recognized, Sort of..

In 1861, another crucial act in the history of anti-noise pollution regulation in India was introduced under the name of The Police Act of 1861. In accordance with this legal framework of guidelines and rights, the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and associated authorities were given the power to control, subdue and mitigate processions, riots, marches and other such noise-producing public menaces in the form of organized events. Of course, “noise” did not really enjoy a central place in this Act but it was implied that the public nuisance caused by such events (in which noise is a definitive contributor) allows the police to take action for dispersion or control of routes and overall supervision in general.

An early precursor of anti noise law in India was one which allowed police to stop processions in the name of public nuisance

Photo by Inguva Venkata Eshwar from Pexels

 

Beating around the Bush

The Indian Fisheries Act of 1897 and the Indian Forest Act of 1927 were both focused on deterring human activities from reducing natural sanctity of specific areas of biodiversity or species. Both of these acts contain information about legal ramifications against noise producing human activities, but neither of them is specifically geared towards dealing with noise as a human by-product specifically when it comes to protecting nature.

Let’s Try Something Else, They Thought

The Aircraft Act of 1934 and The Factories Act of 1948 were fundamental legal introductions that allowed noise to be considered as an actionable offense, even though the outright mention of noise in these clauses were still avoided. These acts focused on ensuring that adequate legal action was taken against aviation operations or factory-based operations in cases where injury or damage was incurred to entities operating within and without the immediate service quarters, especially if this occurred in a wilful manner. The Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules instated in the year 1934 further granted the government the power to take legal action against airports and aircraft carriers in cases where noise was considered as a definitive public nuisance. However, a case filed against aviation authorities or airports for this specific issue has been unheard of till date, yet again indicating that these legal frameworks did not directly address the problem of noise pollution. A similar scenario occurred with the Motor Vehicles Act of 1939 in which state governments were given all the power and legal authority to take action against vehicles that contributed to public nuisance. However, the lack of mention of noise as a specific form of public nuisance, save convoluted oblique references to the same, resulted in a dearth of any major focus on the topic of noise pollution as a result of this law.

Aircraft Act of 1934 in India vaguely implied that noise from airports can be treated as a public nuisance

Environmental Hygiene..?

In the year 1973, Section 133 was introduced into the Code of Criminal Procedures, and with it environmental hygiene became a fundamental part of the legislative framework. The section specified several activities within the human industrial and developmental milieu which are to be avoided keeping in mind the physical comfort and health of the community. Specifically, this section focused on trade and industrial activities that could cause inconvenience to the community at large. The Stockholm Conference of 1972, in which India was a participant, influenced the unfolding of this particular legal stance to a considerable extent. Of course, noise was not mentioned specifically within the section, thereby making noise pollution a less apparent and even less enforceable aspect when it comes down to legal ramifications, the impact of which resound to this day.

Noise makes it First Appearance on the Legal Stage

The first time when noise was mentioned in the legal framework of India was when the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was introduced into the annals of law in the fateful year of 1981. In this particular Act, noise was clubbed into the definition of what constitutes an ‘air pollutant’, specifically bringing it under the umbrella of “substances” that can cause harm to the natural environment or any creature herewith. The exact clause in which noise is included reads as follows:

“air pollutant” means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance 2[(including noise)] present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment” – Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 [Chapter 1, 2(a)]

The anti noise legislation in India has not aged well unlike this person

Photo by Kathryn Archibald from Pexels

The Modern Law of a Noisy Land

In the middle of a noisy highway of time as the nation shouts, grunts, and hisses its way into the new age of development, there arrives, finally, a comprehensive legal framework against noise pollution under the title of “The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000”. A by-product and also an enhancement of specific parts of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, this legal instrument of action (inaction?) formed the foundations of anti-noise laws that continue to be ignored in large part throughout the country even today. The core aim of the act was to empower the Central and State governments to take adequate action, as deemed necessary, against noise pollution. Of course, it seems that the governments have not really found it necessary till date, what with all the air-conditioned cars, massive villas, self-praise and other such “necessary” things blocking the constant din of modern India to a large extent.

However, this particular law offered the first comprehensive definition of what can be classified as a public nuisance under the umbrella term of noise pollution, an aspect that forms the only ray of hope in the sonic chaos that defines us today. There are four categories of noise sources and the acceptable levels of noise associated with each that the law puts forth. This was a profound move as opposed to the simple nudges and whispers that formed a part of earlier legal frameworks pertaining to what “noise” really is and how it ought to be controlled. Here are the four categories as outlined by the law of this noisy land:

Category of Area  Maximum Limits of Sound in Decibels

Daytime(6 am -10 pm)

 Maximum Limits of Sound in Decibels

Night Time(10 pm – 6 am)

Industrial 75 70
Commercial 65 55
Residential 55 45
Silent 50 40

 

The legal framework that was born in 2000 derives and invokes Article 21 (Right to Life) and Articles 48A and 51A (maintaining the sanctity of environment) in order to drive home the point that noise is an undesirable aspect of human development against which legal action can be taken. Today, the Indian Penal Code finally cites noise as a definitive form of public nuisance, specifically within the Sections of 268 and 290. In fact, Section 290 of the IPC even posits a fine for crossing the limits of acceptable noise. Unfortunately, the fine is a mere INR 200, which is barely enough to cause a massive shift in our favourite subconscious (sometime conscious) pass-time.

Hence, the history of anti-noise pollution laws shows us clearly that Indians have always had a big problem in identifying just how noisy is “good noisy” and what that obscure realm known as “bad noisy” really is. The issue is that even with a loud horn blaring right by their ears, we have not really been able to pinpoint just how bad this problem really is. Finally, after all these years, when an actual law is passed against noise, there appears that nothing has changed, except the definitive increase in noise levels around us.

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