This morning, 50th Earth Day, noise levels in Mumbai recorded between 50.5dB and 60.1dB. The city of Mumbai under lockdown due to coronavirus, is recovering from the ‘unavoidable’ noise of urbanization. Social media posts across the city, in the midst of economic and other hardships reflect people’s recognition of this change for the better in their environment. Member of the ‘Clean Air Collective’ Waatawaran’s tweet says “Today is the cleanest ‘Earth Day’ we’ve ever experienced but it has come at the cost of great pain & suffering for many.

“Maximum City” Mumbai on a normal day records noise levels beyond 85 dB from traffic alone. Constant honking is the most pervasive form of noise pollution, which goes to beyond 120 dB through incessant construction activity, loudspeaker and firecracker use by private functions and during the festival season and from religious places.

In February 2016, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) named Mumbai noisiest city in India. At the time, political support against noise pollution was largely absent and even encouraged noise makers and advocated leniency in punishments. Since then, the Citizens’ Movement against noise has gained traction and some political support resulting in reduced peak noise levels made 2019 the quietest festival season in 15 years.

Any citizens’ Movement requires political and administrative support to achieve long-term change. Though equally damaging to health as air and water pollution, noise pollution has been neglected and we have a long way ahead to recover the peace and quiet which should belong to all of us but is now being advertised as an aspirational luxury for expensive apartments, out of reach of most.

Recent political support to the anti-noise movement, though delayed, has helped control some sources of noise though in spite of several awareness campaigns supported by the Police and Government, enforcement of noise rules has largely lagged behind. The links between environmental pollutants and health are undeniable and are brought to attention by the current pandemic, itself a result of destruction of the environment. Noise pollution has been recognized as one of the most serious health hazards which adversely affects hearing, causes high blood pressure, heart disease and mental health illnesses. Noise effects are a little more indirect, but they can be just as lethal.

Some other measures to make our new-found awareness about the benefits of reducing noise pollution beyond the lockdowns would include encouragement of online meetings, reduction of decibel levels of horns, banning private use of firecrackers and removal of loudspeakers from religious places. On this 50th Earth Day when, in spite of suffering and adversity, we nevertheless enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and quieter city, we look more than ever to political leadership to champion the cause of environmental protection, including reduction of pollutants like air and noise affecting the health of us all, beyond the current lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.