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New rules of good governance should include ban on loudspeakers in public spaces

Have loudspeakers in places of worship become a law and order issue (Photo: IANS)

We, as a nation, have a unique distinction of failing to learn from our past experiences. Nowadays, the law-and-order situation is getting disturbed frequently because individuals choose to exercise their right to use loudspeakers, unmindful of the misery and disturbance that they cause to others.

The practice of using loudspeakers to celebrate each and every occasion has become a norm in people’s lives here. It does not stop at that. With the advent of the wedding   season, roads are taken over and even cordoned off, at will, to become the dancing stage for the groom’s side to celebrate the occasion! Tremendous discomfort to thousands of people with traffic bottlenecks and jams ensues. Unconcerned, the “baratis” keep dancing to popular filmi tunes with thousand watts from a powerful sound system blaring away, unabated, ad nauseam.

All this suffering of the public is continuing from time immemorial, with no objections raised because we are all guilty of indulging in this public mode of celebration. When one person’s celebrations become a societal nightmare, should there not be a collective effort to resolve the needless mess that we have all got into unknowingly and end this chalta hai attitude?

The same has been the case with all our religious practices, irrespective of the faith one belongs to. The blaring of loudspeakers for decades, from religious places like temples, mosques, gurudwaras etc. has continued unchecked. The adverse impact of the noise pollution and nuisance value for others, because of this practice, unfortunately, never received requisite attention.

Also Read: Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on loudspeaker use in mosques could impact other countries

However, the recent communal tensions due to use of loudspeakers/ religious processions, have brought back the focus on these important issues -which need to be corrected without any delay. In this context, the recent decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government to ensure that loudspeakers are no longer a public nuisance and similar strict instructions regarding regulation of religious processions deserve appreciation and should be welcomed.

The issue of misuse of loudspeakers had drawn the attention of the Supreme Court which banned the use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places between 10 pm and 6 am in July 2005. The court had given the verdict citing the serious effects of noise pollution on the health of those who live in the area.

It did not touch upon the rationale of the connected social and religious practices per se. The question that ought to have been settled by the Supreme Court was that religion being a purely personal matter between a person and his god, why is there any need to make a public spectacle of religious practices? Why should there be religious processions, blocking of roads / pathways for various kinds of pooja, jhanki, bhandara, namaz etc. every now and then, by people of different faiths, causing great hardships to thousands of people unconnected with the practice of that particular faith.

Why should we be assaulted by bhajans, Kirtans, Kathas, Jagrans, azans etc.  perforce? How long should it continue to cause immense discomfort and inconvenience to majority of people living in the vicinity?

There is also an urgent need to ban political processions, road shows, public meetings in public places and open grounds and consequent use of loudspeakers to propagate their own cause. These public rallies, organized by various political parties, have gone on unabated for decades which lead to public suffering -especially for those residing in proximity.

These huge political gatherings which cost crores to organize, in addition to creating a public nuisance, are also the source of corrupting the political process in our country. This is where the might of black money, “earned” by the politicians, is brazenly displayed in every election. By banning these road shows, public meetings in open spaces etc. we will not only be minimising the role of ill- gotten wealth in our political process but also minimizing the public inconvenience to millions of people across the country.

With UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s directives to all the religious places to not use loudspeakers or keep them at a level which does not cause inconvenience to others, the time has come to ban all the nuisance causing activities in public places. Issues which were swept under the carpet for all these years are currently foregrounded. All the state governments in the country must take note of the orders issued by the Uttar Pradesh government and implement them in their own states. As we all know, not only the Supreme Court, but the High Courts of several states like UP, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra have been seized of this matter and through their pronouncements tried to resolve the issue of usage of loudspeakers at religious and other places. However, without a holistic policy initiative by various state governments, these pronouncements remained ineffective.

Several High Courts had opined that the use of loudspeakers was not a fundamental right and no constitutional claim could be made regarding use of loudspeakers, still the central and state governments kept silent and did nothing to correct the situation. Due to inaction on the part of the states, various fringe elements took advantage of the situation and succeeded in aggravating communal discord in various parts of the country.

The serious communal riots of Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh had its origins in the dispute over the use of loudspeakers only, which led to loss of several precious lives and loss of property worth millions. The deep cleavage created in society was catastrophic.

The time has come to solve the egregious problem of public nuisance caused due to use of loudspeakers and use of public pathways in all forms, in religious activities of all faiths, political actions, marriages and other social gatherings, forever. We have the example of several nations who have prohibited all kinds of activities which cause public nuisance. We need to have enforcement of stricter laws to end the misery of millions caused by a few. Private use of public spaces, at will, must be ended forever.

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(Vijay Shankar Pandey retired from the Indian Administrative Service. He has an established record of raising his voice against corruption in public life. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)