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City of cacophony

While walking along the footpath at Kawran Bazar in the capital, Apon Rahman, who works at a private firm, was irritated by the din caused by constant honking of horns by motorcycles, buses and other vehicles. ‘Be it in residential or commercial areas, this infernal noise seems to be everywhere,’ Rahman shares with Xtra on February 3. 
Besides horns by motorists, the raucous caused by brick crushers and mixing machines of construction work, use of heavy, noisy equipment in factories and loudspeakers have been the root of sound pollution in the city and its outskirts.  
According to the statistics of a local organisation Work for Better Bangladesh (WBB Trust), the sound level around the city has crossed tolerable limits. In a daylong survey on November 24 last year, WBB Trust found the highest level to be at 100 decibel and the lowest at 80 decibel in Motijheel area on that day. 
The Trust also found that a similarly high level of noise pollution also persists at Farmgate, one of the busiest parts of the city. In its survey on January 23 this year, the highest level existed at 104 decibel and 81 decibel was the lowest. 
Similarly, at Shahbag, one of the busiest points where two important hospitals are located, the highest level was at 100 decibel and lowest at 40 decibel on January 26, this year.
According to the Noise Pollution (Control) Rules 2006, 50 decibel is the permissible level of sound in residential areas during daytime. During nighttime, it is 40 decibel. 
In its study, Poribesh Bachao Andolan (Poba), a pro-environment group in Bangladesh has also found an alarming level of sound pollution in most places of Dhaka. The study released in December last year showed the alarming levels of 87 decibel at the highest and 76 decibel at the lowest.  
Besides studies by non-government organisations, the Department of Environment (DoE) also carried out a survey from April to May 2012. This study also found noise level in the capital to be beyond the permissible limit. It was more than double the limit in some cases, the study had cited.
The noise pollution controlling law prohibits honking within 100 metre radius of hospitals, educational institutions and offices and use of brick and stone breaking machines within 500 metre radius of residential areas. First time offenders can be fined up to Tk 5,000 and second-timers two months’ imprisonment alongside Tk 10,000 fine. Clause 7 of the law stipulates that an offender can be fined between Tk 10,000 to seven lakh takas.
Environment activists say, though the law is present to curb such pollution, its weak application and the authorities’ negligence at implementing controlling measures have worsened the crisis for the city.
With construction work going on all across the city, machines and equipment are used all daylong and sometimes even at night. Though the law prohibits nighttime use of such machines and equipment, the contractors and developers do not care about it. The developers also hardly care about another clause of the law that asks them to set up high boundary walls around construction sites and erect steel enclosures around the under-construction infrastructure.
Moreover, because of the unplanned urbanisation across the city there are lot of factories and industries even in the residential areas. The equipment and generators used in these factories often create intolerable sounds.     
According to physicians, intolerable levels of sound is silent cause for many diseases. It causes high blood pressure, headaches, heart diseases, serious harm to the ear, including deafening and so on, says a physician.
Although hydraulic horns are prohibited in the vehicles, drivers do not fear to use it, says Syed Saiful Alam, media advocacy officer of WBB Trust. ‘There is a provision for one month’s jail along with Tk 5,000 fine for violating the rules,’ he informs. 
Dr MA Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), says, ‘The law is in place. But unfortunately it is hardly practiced.’ 
Md Alamgir, director (Monitoring and Enforcement) of DoE, says that the body conducts routine drives in different cities including the capital. He says that most people are unconscious about the sound pollution and thus are least bothered about the laws. He further informs that there is a cell at DoE where people can complain and DoE can then take steps accordingly in spite of having inadequate human resources.  
Poba chairperson Abu Naser Khan emphasises on raising awareness about the side effects of noise pollution. ‘Signboards have to set up to display the permissible limits in silent, industrial, commercial and residential areas,’ he says. Awareness generating messages can also be dissipated through the media, he adds. 
Matin says that there should be strict implementation of the law. ‘To curb the pollution the government should ban import of high volume horns as well as to take strict actions against factories that create harsh sounds beyond permissible level,’ he says. Experts feel that there should be regular mobile court drives to curb such pollution.