“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation “ - Cicero
Right next to the National Institute of Mental Health; popularly known as Angoda hospital, there is a playground. The ground is used for matches between sports clubs and during the festive seasons for carnivals, all with loud speakers and loud music.
How fair this is to the poor inmates is the question. These hospital patients with their vulnerable minds need peace of mind more than anyone else and subjecting them to loud disturbances at regular intervals threatening their sense of well-being is a danger that the health authorities should look into, at least now.
However it’s not only the Mental Health Institute inmates who need peace of mind. Every citizen should have a right to protect him/herself from noise pollution. Unfortunately in the absence of such laws or not implementing the existing laws, peace loving citizens continue to suffer. Students who are preparing for examinations have to bear up the loud music of the neighbours. The babies, sick and the elderly are regularly disturbed by the same and also the loud music by the ubiquitous bread and bun seller who peddles down the lane and the sounds of construction sites in the vicinity.
Those who live close to play grounds have no peace from loud speakers at matches or musical events. The motorists and pedestrians on a daily basis have to bear up the virtually non-stop tooting of horns by the impatient drivers, particularly private bus and three wheeler drivers. Both the residents and the employees of offices near big construction sites have to keep quiet even if the sounds from the sites turn them deaf. At almost every junction there’s a sweep ticket seller who would yap non-stop to attract people’s attention.
This is in addition to the ruckuses created by the politicians in the parliament and elsewhere. People are forced to watch and listen to this when they switch on the television. Besides, the television channels too are full of tele-dramas where liquor brawls and loud family feuds are highlighted. At times when these dramas are watched by members of one family who put the dramas on a loud tone, they disturb most of the neighbours. Sri Lanka certainly is a land of commotion despite the fervent hope of the people for a quiet and peaceful life.
However, if the authorities and the law enforcement institutions are serious about the issue, there is a clear judgement from the Supreme Court regarding noise pollution. In November 2007, country’s apex court in an order ruled that it was a violation of fundamental rights when excessive noise caused annoyance, disturbance and harm to other parties who were compelled to listen to the amplified sounds against their will.
In coming to its judgement, the court considered whether it was permissible to force people to become captive listeners – in violation of their right to silence. This was on the grounds that a noise, is an annoyance to the neighbourhood, not only from a public or a private event but even if it is made in the course of a religious ceremony.
The SC in a clear affirmation held that nobody could claim the fundamental right to create noise by amplifying the sound of his or her speech with the help of loudspeakers because, just as much as one has the right of speech, others have the right to listen or decline to listen. Nobody has the right to make his or her voice trespass into the ears or minds of others.
In its comprehensive order, the court did not forget the children and those who are sick who require silence, more than anyone else. The Court held that a great deal of harm is done to schoolchildren, whose studies are disturbed and to sick people, whose recovery from illness is retarded. The judgement also noted that noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress. Medically doctors have said that students exposed to high levels of noise may have difficulty in concentration, and may suffer memory loss.
So there are clear guidelines for both the people and the authorities to follow with regard to noise and silence and we need to give a good ear to the victims of noise and sound pollution.