With growing awareness in the country about the hazards of noise
pollution, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India
framed a draft of Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules, 1999 inviting
objections and suggestions from the public. The following year the Noise
Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 came into force.
The regulations asked state governments 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".
Certain amendments were made in the Noise Rules in November 2000
and again in 2002. The latter gave some leeway to state governments: "the State
Government may… 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 festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in
all during a calendar year".
Earlier, in a 1998 writ petition filed in the Supreme Court (see
main copy), the main prayer was for a court order directing all state
governments to rigorously enforce the existing laws for restricting the use of
loudspeakers and other high volume noise producing audio-video systems "so that
there may not be victims of noise pollution in future".
In 2003, the apex court later attached to the writ petition a
special leave petition that questioned the discretion given to states to relax
the night-time ban on loudspeakers on the plea that without proper guidelines
this would defeat the very purpose of the noise control rules.
In its judgement of July 18, 2005, the division bench of Chief
Justice RC Lahoti and Justice Ashok Bhan made certain observations and issued
some specific directions:
Ø Noise pollution is a serious issue as it can be related to the
constitutional right to life (Article 21). The right to life enshrined in
Article 21 is not of mere survival or existence. It guarantees a right of
persons to life with human dignity… Anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort
and quiet within his house has a right to prevent the noise as pollutant
Ø 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… Article 19(1)A cannot be pressed into service for defeating the
fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21.
Ø Noise is more than just a nuisance. It constitutes a real and
present danger to people’s health.
Ø The Legislature and the Executive in India are (not)
completely unmindful of the menace of noise pollution. Laws have been enacted
and 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.
Ø The Supreme Court in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India
vs. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Assn., (2000) 7 SCC 282, 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 was
further held: "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 our view, in a civilised
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".
Ø 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 the Diwali festival. Similar relaxation was
demanded for other festivals… Indian society is pluralistic. 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.
Highlights, court directions:
Ø There shall 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.
Ø 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.
Ø 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
Ø 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.
Ø 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
Ø 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.
On the eve of Ganeshotsav, the Supreme Court turned down the
plea of the government of Maharashtra for relaxation in the night-time ban on
loudspeakers. But in response to a petition from the Gujarat government, the
Supreme Court passed a further order on October 3. The apex court’s attention
was drawn to the fact that under sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5 of the Noise Control
Rules, 2002, state governments have the discretion "to permit use of loud
speakers or public address systems during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to
12.00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of a
limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during a calendar year".
It was further contended that since in its July 18 judgement the
apex court had not specifically upset the division bench judgement of the Kerala
high court and had also not even otherwise expressed and recorded any specific
opinion on the constitutional validity or otherwise of sub-Rule(3), the state
governments could exercise the power conferred by sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5.
Admitting the point made, the court agreed to re-open the case
for fresh hearing to the limited extent of examining the constitutional validity
of sub-Rule(3). Until then, Rule 5 would remain in force. The court once again
refused the plea for allowing the bursting of firecrackers on Diwali.
Unfortunately, the failure of both the government of Maharashtra
and the apex court to refer to sub-Rule(3) of Rule 5 earlier, and the concession
of the point when raised by the Gujarat government subsequently has, however,
reintroduced the element of resentment and competitive religiosity and taken
some of the shine off the widely welcomed Supreme Court ruling of July 18.