Mumbai has some serious obstacles to overcome if it is to ever address its noise pollution problem in any meaningful way. Its citizens are largely unaware of the fact that noise can cause them harm, although the Indian government does consider it a serious problem. By aligning itself with the World Health Organization, the Indian government has tried to establish standard noise caps for residential areas (55 decibels), commercial areas (65 decibels) and industrial areas (75 decibels). However these noise caps are violated daily and offenders are almost never admonished.
In Mumbai, like most of India’s cities, traffic noise is the primary cause of noise pollution, and there is no escape from the 24/7 cacophony of traffic-related sound, from construction to horns honking incessantly, night and day with no relief. In 2008, to honor World Health Day, Mumbai held a “No Honking Day” – by all accounts a remarkable feat made possible only because of the Mumbai traffic police’s unwavering efforts to enforce the ban. Mumbai’s citizens had a taste of what it was like to experience a day without the unwelcome blaring of auto horns filling every waking minute. For the average Mumbai citizen, the respite was nice but only impeded one of the many sources of Mumbai’s daily noise monsters.
Predictions were that “No Honking Day” would lead to countless accidents and chaos among both motorists and pedestrians, although no problems occurred. Still, the one day moratorium didn’t scratch the surface of Mumbai’s very serious noise pollution problem.
Mumbai and Delhi, two of India’s most important metro areas, are also two of the world’s noisiest places, and the world in general is a dangerously noisy place. Many organizations taking on the world’s noise pollution problems blame governments for waiting too long and not taking the health risks of noise pollution seriously. After all, just 40 years ago most of the world’s inhabitants had some place to go to escape noise levels that were a risk to their hearing and health. Today, the earth’s quiet spaces are growing smaller and more elusive from one year to the next.
As long as governments are in bed with corporations, the quality of life for Mumbai’s citizens as well as the citizens of most of the world’s major metropolitan areas will never be a priority. Where is the follow-up to environmental reports telling us about the dangers of the noise to which ordinary citizens are subjected? When will the well-being of the people of Mumbai matter to its government more than the economic impact of regulatory compliance?
There’s got to be a Nobel Prize in it for the person who comes up with the answer. In the meantime, the children of Mumbai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Cairo, and New York City (to name just a few of the world’s noisiest cities) are facing a future of hearing damage and loss, impeded learning, sleep disorders, elevated blood pressure and heart disease without ever having known any other life but one filled with noise.