What is all this noise about?

by Sujay Pan

In 2017, Sonu Nigam quit Twitter after a tussle with the local masjid. A loud communal and political issue developed that led to this exit. What was it all about? Well, it simply can’t get more poetic than this but a singer had to quit social media due to an issue about noise pollution caused by azan speakers from a local masjid. But how much do we understand noise pollution and its societal implications?

https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-in-india/sonu-nigam-tweet-on-azaan-and-forced-religiousness-sparks-outrage-on-twitter-4616327/

The 8th standard NCERT Science textbook has this to say about noise “Suppose construction work is going on in your neighborhood. Are the sounds coming from the construction site pleasing? Do you enjoy the sounds produced by horns of buses and trucks? Such unpleasant sounds are called noise” on the other hand it defines music as “Musical sound is one which is pleasing to the ear”.

The more I seem to personally read on this subject the more the lines between the noise and the not noise seem to blur. Compared to almost every other form of pollution here the pollutant has almost a debatable nature around it. Simply put, what is noise for you might be music for me and vice versa. We might want to do away with noise that has a negative effect on us such as construction and traffic and we might want to keep the noise that we desire in our culture such as a parade or procession, imagine Kolkata doing away with the sound of Durga Puja.

A study conducted by Evidence Space called Improving employee productivity by reducing noise tells us that noise can decrease the accuracy of employee’s work by 67 per cent, this has direct implications on the overall profits and productivity of a firm. Even the market should be wary of noise.

https://www.british-gypsum.com/evidence-space/work/improving-employee-productivity-by-reducing-noise

Almost every human has a physical and psychological reaction to noise. Sonic effect, in psychological terms, is created through the timbre of the sound and how we receive it through our mesh of social and cultural understandings. The volume, duration and actual material content of a sound all play a part in how it affects us.” Now this gives us an idea on how we can use noise itself.

Can we use noise for good things? Isn’t it supposed to be all bad? Well to start with the good things, yes we can use noise for good things. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is facing its death. In a healthy reef, there is a lot of marine activity and noise. Scientists decided to literally take speakers with recorded sounds of marine activity and see what happens, it led to an almost miraculous recovery(not a silver bullet) because marine life who could hear this noise came backto the reef. This is what the scientists said, “Acoustic enrichment shows promise as a novel tool for the active management of degraded coral reefs.” So then can noise also be used for bad things?

Noise has been used in war since biblical times. The Battle Of Jericho as the bible puts it had Joshua’s Israelite army which was able to break down the walls of Jericho using the sound of their trumpets. This saw a direct recall when in World War II Germany’s Stuka Ju-87, a dive bomber was fitted with a 70 cm siren dubbed the “Jericho Trumpet”. This siren was used to induce terror. Many other examples of noise being used as a weapon of war exist all across history.

India has always been regarded as a “loud” society. It has a certain character when it comes to its ambient noise setting. The deep impact it has on society can lead to not just issues related to the psychological and physical. The Sonu Nigam vs Azaan speakers debate began with this tweet “God bless everyone. I’m not a Muslim and I have to be woken up by the Azaan in the morning. When will this forced religiousness end in India — Sonu Nigam (@sonunigam) April 16, 2017” This led to heated discussions which quickly spilled over into a communal debate.

What does the law say about noise? The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has recently proposed a set of fines ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1lakh for the violation of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. The permissible limits differ from Industrial areas set at 75 dB for daytime and 70 dB at night, to commercial areas with 65 dB and 55 dB, while in residential areas it is 55 dB and 45 dB during daytime and night respectively. There also exists a wide infrastructure focused on the noise issue, there exist 70 noise monitoring stations under the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network established in 2011 across 7 major cities. It’s not just India that is trying to deal with noise, the global community with WHO as its lead has come up with the Guidelines for Community Noise.

I would finally like to leave you with a few questions. Firstly, what makes noise pollution special? Secondly, can we aid ourselves physically and psychologically by regulating sound? And thirdly, if sound is so fundamental to our existence why doesn’t noise pollution feature among the trifecta of — air, soil and water pollution? We really should hear out the case for noise.