The UP government’s decision to ensure that loudspeakers are no longer a public nuisance and similar strict instructions regarding the regulation of religious processions are to be appreciated and commended,
We as a nation have a unique distinction of not learning from our past experiences. Nowadays, the law and order situation is frequently disrupted because individuals choose to exercise their right to use loudspeakers, regardless of the misery and trouble they cause to others. . The practice of using loudspeakers to celebrate every occasion has become a norm in people’s lives here. It doesn’t stop there. With the advent of the wedding season, the roads are invaded and even cordoned off, at will, to become the dancing stage for the bride and groom to celebrate the occasion! This results in considerable discomfort for thousands of people with bottlenecks and traffic jams. Carefree, the “baratis” continue to dance to the tunes of popular films with thousands of watts of a powerful sound system that screams, relentlessly, until nausea. All of this public suffering has been going on since time immemorial, with no objection being raised as we are all guilty of indulging in this public mode of celebration. When one person’s celebrations become a societal nightmare, shouldn’t there be a collective effort to resolve the unnecessary mess we’ve all unknowingly found ourselves in and end this chalta hai attitude.
It was the same for all our religious practices, whatever the faith to which one belongs. The howling of loudspeakers for decades, from religious places like temples, mosques, gurudwaras, etc., continued unchecked. The negative impact of noise pollution and nuisance value to others due to this practice has unfortunately never received due attention. However, recent community tensions over the use of loudspeakers/religious processions have brought attention back to these important issues – which must be addressed without delay. In this context, the recent decision by the government of Uttar Pradesh to ensure that loudspeakers are no longer a public nuisance and similar strict instructions regarding the regulation of religious processions are to be appreciated and should be welcomed.
The issue of loudspeaker misuse had come to the attention of the Supreme Court which banned the use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in July 2005 The court had handed down the verdict citing the serious effects of noise pollution on the health of those living in the area. It did not address the rationale for related social and religious practices per se. The question that should have been decided by the Supreme Court was that religion being a purely personal matter between a person and their god, why is it necessary to give public spectacle to religious practices? Why should there be religious processions, blocking of roads/lanes for various types of pooja, jhanki, bhandara, namaz etc. from time to time, by people of different faiths, causing great hardship to thousands of people unconnected with the practice of that particular Faith. Why should we be assaulted by bhajans, kirtans, kathas, jagrans, azans etc. by force ? How long should this continue to cause immense discomfort and inconvenience to the majority of people living nearby?
There is also an urgent need to ban political processions, road shows, public meetings in public places and open grounds and the consequent use of loudspeakers to spread their own cause. These public gatherings, organized by various political parties, have continued unabated for decades, resulting in public suffering – especially for those residing nearby. These huge political rallies that cost millions of euros to organize, in addition to creating a public nuisance, are also the source of corruption in the political process in our country. This is where the power of black money, won by politicians, is brazenly displayed in every election. By banning these road shows, public meetings in open spaces, etc., we will not only minimize the role of ill-gotten wealth in our political process, but also public inconvenience for millions of people across the country.
With the directives of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to all religious places not to use loudspeakers or to keep them at a level that does not disturb others, the time has come to ban all harmful activities in public places. Issues that have been swept under the rug all these years are now in the forefront. All state governments in the country should take note of the orders issued by the government of Uttar Pradesh and implement them in their own states. As we all know, not only Supreme Court but High Courts of several states like UP, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra have been seized of this case and through their statements, attempted to resolve the issue of the use of loudspeakers at religious and other venues. However, without a comprehensive political initiative from various state governments, these declarations have remained ineffective.
Several high courts had held that the use of loudspeakers was not a fundamental right and that no constitutional claim could be made regarding the use of loudspeakers, but the central government and the state governments kept the silence and did nothing to correct the situation. Due to the inaction of the state, various fringe elements took advantage of the situation and succeeded in aggravating communal dissensions in various parts of the country. The severe community riots in Muzzafarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh originated in the dispute over the exclusive use of loudspeakers which resulted in the loss of several precious lives and the loss of property worth millions. The deep cleavage created in society has been catastrophic.
The time has come to address the glaring problem of public nuisance caused by the use of loudspeakers and the use of public roads in all their forms, in religious activities of all denominations, political actions, weddings and other gatherings social, forever. We have the example of several nations that have banned all kinds of activities that cause public nuisance. We must enforce tougher laws to end the misery of millions caused by the few. The private use of public spaces, at will, must cease forever.
The writer is a former Indian government secretary