Disturbers of the peace, watch out

The Police will soon be pouncing on all who contribute to noise pollution, starting with bus drivers.

Nadia Fazlulhaq reports

Noise pollution continues to plague city dwellers, although the Supreme Court issued a directive three years ago instructing the authorities to crack down on offenders.

The offending noise makers listed range from factories and construction sites to public and private buses, CD and music cassette shops, lottery ticket sellers, three wheelers, and ice-cream and pastry vendors.

Noise pollution is defined as any disturbing or unpleasant sounds caused by humans, animals or machines. Such noise can affect human and animal behaviour, and even be a health risk. Social, political and legal issues have delayed the enactment of legislation to curb and monitor noise pollution, says Central Environment Authority chairman Charitha Herath, adding that religious groups have been especially vocal against noise control.

Noise generated at construction sites should be monitored, while drivers of vehicles, especially buses, should avoid making undue noise.

“With infrastructure development activity on the increase, there is a great need for noise control,” Mr. Herath told the Sunday Times. “We are in discussion with the relevant parties. Any noise-control regulations to be introduced will have to leave religious activities out of the equation. The delay to get on with the legislation was because of objections from religious groups.”

Laws to check noise caused by vehicles, the main contributors to increased urban noise levels, will come into force by the end of the year. “All vehicles – excluding ambulances, trains, fire brigade vehicles, military and police vehicles – will be subject to the law, once permissible noise levels are determined,” he said.

Loudspeakers and amplifiers are high on the list of offending objects that disturb the peace. Under the 2007 Supreme Court directive, the use of loudspeakers will be prohibited from 10.00 pm to 6.00 am. Police permission will be necessary to use loudspeakers during these hours, and permission will be granted only under exceptional circumstances.

The Supreme Court has ordered the Police to make special arrangements for members of the public to lodge complaints relating to noise pollution. Last month, the Police received up to 30 complaints relating to noise pollution.

“We are getting steady complaints about the noise cause by bus horns and vehicles braking and screeching, and loud music on buses and in three-wheel vehicles,” said Deputy Inspector of Police, Anura Senanayake, who heads the police force’s Environmental Protection Unit.

“Other offenders are street-facing CD and music cassette shops, with their blaring radios and stereo sets,” said DIG Senanayake. “While they may promote their products, they must also understand that they cannot disturb the neighbours and people on the road. Noise limits have to be established.”
He said stern action would be taken against vehicles that caused a disturbance in silent zones or noise-sensitive areas.

A silent zone, according to the National Environmental (Noise Control) Regulation No. 1 of 1996, is an area within a 100 metres of a courthouse, a hospital, a school, a place of religious worship, a public library, a zoo, and areas marked for recreation or environmental purposes.

Noise levels are determined by measuring sound pressure over a period of time in a designated area. Noise is measured in decibels, a logarithmic unit of sound intensity. The permitted noise level within Municipal Council or Urban Council limits is 63 decibels during the day and 50 dB at night. In a silent zone, the upper limit is 50 dB by day and 45 dB at night.

During peak traffic hours, the noise level on the Galle Road and along Parliament Road can go up to 75-to 78 dB, according to DIG Senanayake said. The Police will use monitoring equipment to crack down on drivers who cause unnecessary disturbances, and the Police Environment Protection Unit will act on complaints about noise pollution, under Public Nuisance regulations. 

Persons most at risk, healthwise, because of noise are residents in houses facing main roads or dwelling in the vicinity of factories and construction sites, according to Dr. Mrs. A. M. S. Zanhar of the National Transport Medical Institute.

“You may not be able to see the negative effects of noise, but noise pollution is just as bad for health as any other form of pollution,” said Dr. Zanhar, who is a senior medical officer at the institute. “Noise can cause stress, hypertension, high blood pressure, aggression, insomnia, cardiovascular problems and, of course, hearing loss.”

Students exposed to high levels of noise may have difficulty concentrating, and may suffer memory loss, she added. The Motor Traffic Department is considering temporary control measures, such as issuing suspension orders on noise-making vehicles, according to the department’s Chief Examiner of Motor Vehicles, S. K. Premaratne. “The limit should be between 65 and 80 decibels,” he said.

Under the Motor Traffic (Amendment) Act, drivers of moving or stationary vehicles may not fit loudspeakers or amplifying equipment on their vehicles. Vehicles should also be fitted with silencers.
“All motor vehicles with an internal combustion engine shall be equipped with an efficient silencing device through which all exhaust from the engine is projected and which prevents the creation of undue noise,” the Act states.

Vehicle examiners and police officers are authorised to subject a driver of any vehicle to a noise-level reading. Environment groups are also keen to see a crackdown on noise polluters. Banduranga Kariyawasam, programme coordinator, Natural Resources Conservation Management Unit of the Green Movement, said noise monitoring is a must in urban areas.

“There’s a lot of construction work going on, but no monitoring of noise levels. The Central Environment Authority should have more equipment, and random checks should be conducted.”

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