It’s a capital crisis and the sooner we realise it the better. That’s because Delhi’s honking problem is not limited to just the main roads or the residential pockets, but also plagues the surroundings of schools and hospitals that fall under the so-called silent zone -where the decibel levels shouldn’t exceed 50 decibels during the day and 40 decibels at night.
On Monday, the D-Day of TOI’s No Honking Drive – which seeks to drive home the point that the city can no longer afford to suffer in silence -the traffic police will enforce a strict ‘silent zone’ on the ITO-Tilak Marg stretch from 11 am onwards.
Special commissioner (traffic) Garima Bhatnagar will supervise the challaning drive at the ITO crossing and four other points — India Gate Hexagon, Tilak Marg and Bhagwan Das signals, and Barakhamba Road. Volunteers stationed at these points with ‘no honking’ placards will hand out roses to the offenders.
As Dr WVBS Ramalingam, head of ENT at BLK Hospital, insists, the growing incidence of hearing problem among people in their 30s and 40s is evidence of the enormity of task that lies ahead of us. Doctors at AIIMS say motorists tend to honk even on hospital premises. A survey conducted by doctors at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh to assess the non-auditory impact of noise pollution in and around hospitals threw up some shocking results: 74% of the respondents reported irritation due to the loud noise whereas 40% talked of noise-related headache. Sleep disturbance, which has wide ranging effects on the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems, was found rampant.
Dr A K Rai, medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital, says noise pollution around hospitals is primarily due to overcrowding, proximity to the main road and construction work.
According to WHO, background noise in hospital rooms should ideally not exceed 40 decibels; most hospitals in Delhi suffer din of nearly double the permissible limit.
To sensitise the public about the problem, the battle needs to start early, more so as the kids are the biggest sufferers. Springdales School, Pusa Road, for example, has been engaged in a protracted battle against noise. Set on a busy roundabout, the school -legally entitled to have a ‘silent zone’ around it -has seen little peace. Principal Ameeta Mulla Wattal says: “It (the noise) increases aggression in kids and reduces their concentration – even motivation.”
Springdales has several classrooms right next to the road and “congestion is a constant problem, the honking incessant”, says Wattal. Shutting windows is no solution unless the classrooms are air-conditioned.
Mount Abu Public School, situated on a congested road in Rohini, installed soundproof windows in some of its classes about five years ago. Principal Jyoti Arora says: “We installed air-conditioning about the same time. In any case, the windows have to be shut. Despite that, we had to soundproof some of the senior classes that faced the road.”
Laxman Public School, set on the Outer Ring Road, has had a similarly long fight. Usha Ram, who retired as principal this year, says the school had to hold its cultural programmes in the backyard and schedule them for when there was least traffic.
Bal Bharti, Rohini, has grounds large enough to keep classrooms away but with roads along three sides of its premises and a district court across one of its main gates, there’s ‘absolute chaos’ between 9:30 am and 2 pm – the better part of the school hours. “We’re not disturbed by the noise inside the school but that’s because we are practically cordoned off and held hostage for a couple of hours every day,” says principal Rekha Sharma.