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Silence, please!

As Delhi is the second noisiest city in the world. environmentalists need to buckle up and find ways to curb this hazard

Rakesh, 30, a citizen of Rajendra Nagar travels every day to work, and on his way to work in Daryaganj, suffers the torture of traffic snarls at the Jama Masjid traffic signal, where he is greeted with honking of horns from all directions. Days pass by, and Rakesh slowly comes to realise that he is suffering from an irritation of sorts in his left ear. The itch slowly turns into a pain, which goes on increasing day after day, till one fine day he discovers bleeding from his left ear.

ENT specialist Dr BK Kapoor (name changed) advised surgery, finding that Rakesh’s tympanic membrane (eardrum) was ruptured and on the brink of being completely damaged. “This would have resulted in a complete loss of hearing. Even though he is still partially deaf, we managed to save him,” says Dr Kapoor. “Rakesh’s eardrum was damaged only because of exposure to high levels of noise on a regular basis,” he says.

Of course, Rakesh is not the only victim of Delhi’s noise pollution. As a study by hearing aid company Mimi states, Delhi is the most affected city in terms of diseases due to noise pollution, as 64% of the total cases of hearing loss in the city are attributed to this menace. A report published by the World Health Organisation states that Delhi is the second worst affected city in the world due to noise pollution, second only to Guangzhou, China.

The WHO has also set the standard ‘safe’ noise level at 45 decibels. However, almost all areas in Delhi have crossed this limit, according to noise monitoring systems of the Delhi Pollution Control Board. According to the DPCC, the average noise level in the city is 61.4 decibels, which is more than 16b decibels more than the safe limit. “Though the standard noise limit is 45 decibels around the world, in Delhi, it has been set at 65 decibels, according to the Noise Pollution Rule, 2010, for reasons unknown,” says Dr Kapoor.

The 2010 Rules have set the safe noise level of 65 decibels only for commercial areas like Anand Vihar, Civil Lines, ITO and Daryaganj. Anand Vihar, incidentally, produces an average of 69 decibels, thus being the most noisy area in Delhi. However, surprisingly, RK Puram and Punjabi Bagh, which are categorized as ‘residential area” and ‘quiet area’ respectively, shows noise levels above 65 decibels on an average.

According to data obtained from the Delhi Traffic Police, the ITO and Jama Masjid intersections have a constant noise of more than 80 decibels. Delhi’s ITO cross section in 2017 recorded an average sound of 106 decibels, the highest not only in the city, but also in the world. However, according to Dr Kapoor, if a man is exposed to more than 80 decibels for a continuous amount of time, then the chances of his tympanic membrane bursting are very high.

According to environmentalist Ravi Kalra, “Traffic congestion is the major reason why noise pollution is continuously on the rise.” “A horn honk produced by a car gives a sound of an average of 85 decibels. There are more than a crore cars in the city right now. So imagine the level of sound produced just by the honking of horns”, he adds. “The Supreme Court had also passed an order which penalized the honking of horns at traffic signals, but no one seems to heed to it”, he says.

According to the NGO Astha, a lot of people in Vasant Vihar suffer from diseases due to noise pollution because of their close proximity to the airport. “ The noise produced due to the landing and take off of planes near the area have caused a lot of disturbance for the locals, and we have also complained to the Airport authorities regarding this matter,” says a representative of Astha.

“Sound pollution not only results in hearing loss, but also a lot of other diseases like insomnia, brain hemorrhage, dementia and also may cause brain cancer and severe nerve ailments,” says Dr. Kapoor. “But unfortunately, our government does not consider this a hazard and has not taken any steps to curb it at all,” he says.

“We must realise that sound pollution is a serious harm to our environment, and we must take steps to prevent it,” says Ravi Kalra. “The first thing we should do is reduce the use of horns. It is not mandatory to honk a horn every time. I myself use my horn very rarely, and by God’s grace I haven’t had any accident or traffic issue since the time I started driving,” he says. “The fine now for honking at a traffic signal is a mere Rs 100, which is nothing. What the government should do is increase the fine, and also ensure that the police collects the fine — that will definitely make the citizens more aware.”

“There should also be more no-honking drives across the city, and there should be strict vigilance in the vicinities of hospitals and schools, so that patients and children do not get affected by noise pollution,” says Kalra. “Traffic police now do not have the adequate equipment to measure the sound level of a particular area. Such machines should be bought and the police should closely monitor the sound levels,” says Kalra.

“When the city was choked in smog due to air pollution, the authorities at least took some immediate action to curb the problem. The authorities should realise that noise pollution too is causing major damage to the city, just like —if not more — than air pollution. If this continues, Delhi will no longer remain second, but turn into the noisiest city on the planet, by a long mile,” concludes Ravi alra.