If any locality in India has a famous religious shrine, then inevitably they would also have an annual festive celebration associated with it. The annual Mahim fair has been celebrated since decades and an integral part of this celebration was the religious procession on the main roads accompanied by loud music and beating of huge drums. Every year the sound decibels would get louder, causing health problems to the residents. Also the duration and the number of ‘sandals’ in the procession kept increasing, leading to continuous noise from loudspeakers. This is particularly true for a country like India, where celebrations have a habit of happening on the roads be it Ganpati, Diwali, or Moharram.

For 10 days in a year, the local residents had to bear the brunt of this excessive procession noise for around 12 hours, at times from 2.30 pm in the afternoon till 3 am at night. It was difficult to complain about religious rituals, keeping in mind the sensitive emotions associated with it. Even the police have a first priority of not allowing any complaint to affect the law and order situation in any locality.

However, since 2013 private citizens Farooque Dhala and Irfan Machiwala, along with a dedicated team from the Sumaira Abdul Ali’s NGO called ‘Awaaz Foundation’ decided to do something about this intense sound pollution. In 2014, after repeatedly requesting and following up with the police authorities, the number of ‘sandals’ permitted was reduced from 360 to 150, so obviously, there were lesser processions and lesser noise on the roads.

In 2015, Farooque and Irfan and team measured the sound decibels and their team again followed up tirelessly with the authorities, with letters, meetings with officials, site visits to the area, discussions, etc. For every problem raised from others on this sound pollution issue, the local representatives with Farooque and Irfan, would gave their tentative solutions. They succeeded in reducing the permission for the procession time only from 7 pm to 10 pm.

In 2016 only 100 sandal processions were permitted to be taken on the roads, with strict instructions not to halt, but to ensure continuous movement on the roads. Any violation of sound decibel limit, or breakage of public rules was reported immediately by the vigilant responsible team to the concerned authorities. The team had faced many hardships in their quest to reduce noise pollution. Officials would get transferred, new round of repeated talks and letters would have to be exchanged with the authorities and there would be many moments of frustration in dealing with the bureaucracy.

By 2017, the sound activists continued to work tirelessly with the authorities to proclaim a new rule that there would be no use of loud DJ music or loud banging of ‘Dhol’ drums. For the next year, because of the ongoing Metro work on the main roads, activists Farooque and Irfan and team have requested that the procession be taken on alternative shorter roads, and for 7 days instead of 10 days to further reduce the great impact of noise pollution.

Around 2000-3000 people gather at night for the festivities. The activists have also asked for a time limit in closing down the stalls, to further reduce the noise impact. Year after year, it is people like Farooque and Irfan who strive selflessly and do their bit to save the environment from unnecessary man made intense noise pollution, while other residents sleep peacefully at their homes. Our country needs more private citizens like Farooque and Irfan, to take public responsibility of a noise controlled environment. Such noise pollution is particularly aggravating during Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali (where loud crackers are burst), etc. and citizens should come forward to control them.

About Shobha G Rao

Green Ubuntu Evangelist Shobha G Rao is a lawyer by qualification and a Life skill trainer by passion. Her 'Smilemakers' firm has a vision to ensure that people reconnect with their inner ability to smile and create smiles around them. Her immense local work for the cause of a Clean environment, was recognized nationally when she was selected as one of the finalists for the Times Of India's Lead India contest. Her project submitted in 2007 was to Clean India much before Swatch Bharat campaign became a reality in 2014. Her writings aim to change the attitude of people - from indifference to taking responsibility for the environment. Only when private citizens start taking constructive actions in their own areas to resolve public environmental issues, can we live in a better world.