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DateLine Wednesday, 17 October 2007

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Government Gazette


Sounds pleasing, sounds threatening

It was a sensation! Dealing nostalgically with youth, the show proved completely captivating. The young beauty, who played the lead, was a winsome heroine. Sensitive and caring, she was completely devoted to the household with a strong propensity for doing right. It was masterly, except for some initial fears of an amateur.


A teacher participating as a member of the panel of judges, I just wanted to see if she had been overacting. Our panel head, a celebrated performer and musician, said, that she is deaf. And, even when things are in total control, she innocently pricks her ears for words.

Sound may assault you off the cuff. Unlike air or water pollution, threatening you with slow death typical of a cancerous attack, it may be an ambush totally uncalled for.

Our unassuming heroine, living close to an unlicensed stone mine was found deaf after a blast. The cruel constructor was fined for propelling stones upon another's property, but the deadly blow on her future went unnoticed.

Being utterly careless and insensitive, we take sound for granted. It's extremely emotional. Like sight, smell, taste and touch, its sweetness upon some and nauseating on others.

Even a cassette player in full volume, unwanted high pitched remark or bad mouth in hostility may cause harm. An undesirable frequency range might thus damage listeners in some way.

One might say, no wonder, that noise is an integral part of our day-to-day life. But that fierce dog barking next door, ever active pensioner with his threatening lawn-mover over the lane and notoriously screaming timber mill at a distance should not be our companions for a life-time.

We all agree that there must be some definite measures against such nuisance. All night pirith chanting ceremonies, ringing of church bells and early morning prayers in mosques give respective sectors an emotional feeling.

One must remember that we are a multi-cultural society. The city walls were pulled down with the open economy, and metropolitan area has been sprawling. Green spaces have been ravaged so that urbanites increasingly loosing touch with the nature.

These new urbanites must learn how to live in their new found land. Capacity for recognising and accepting religious or social characteristics differ, and the ground rules for living must be changed. Religious liberty differs. To be tolerant towards others is the most important thing.

When you live in the city you tend to undergo a process of change. You look for a change and if you wish to survive you must learn to love it and open for new ideas.

Much faster and deeper attitudinal changes are the pre-requisites of a harmonious society. Hence, all night religious observances must be banned or curtailed to reduce sound pollution in metropolitan areas.

Finally, it is easy to neglect such forms of sound pollution, leaving only speeding motorists as the only culprit. Obviously, aircrafts, cars, motor cycles and industrial equipment add much more to the destruction. But there are measures to reduce noise at various forms of silencing devices.

Workers are provided with equipment to cover their ears when at work. New laws suggesting noise limits are abundant. Silent zones near hospitals, schools and court complexes have been in effect for a long time.

And, there are suggestions to reduce traffic density by way of mass public transport systems. But those are aspects the public have long being protesting. And, it is easy to suggest and make amendments as they are not politically sensitive.

The line of argument is however to discourage religious observances in cities, but to bring a sense of perspective to the debate on sound pollution.

It's not a waste to campaign against popular forms of sound pollution, but there is a cause for concern right under our noses when continuing our cultural observances in cities where many ethnic groups share many things in common.

Winding up the debate, it's not easy to leave out our heroine altogether. It offers a plot for another sensational tale. The culprits are a sound system in high volume, reckless driver and set of loudspeakers.

Sound Pollution: What is the solution ?

The issue of sound pollution, hitherto unnoticed or ignored by most Sri Lankans, has carved a niche in public debate of late, with the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) drawing up regulations to control community noise pollution.

With the final version of the draft law scheduled to be submitted to the Supreme Court in November, diverging views are expressed regarding what has been declared as the main objective of the regulations: controlling public address through loudspeakers.

Whatever the arguments for and against the regulations, it is an established fact that sounds with high decibel levels are harmful not only to the human ear, but also to the mental health of the public which often manifests itself in the form of depression, hyper-tension, heart disease or aggression.

According to local health authorities, more than 100 decibels are heard a day from road traffic on any major road in Sri Lanka today. The figure is alarming when compared with the sound level for a bedroom set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is less than 30 decibels.

In today's Daily News Debate we feature a moving account of a young girl who partially lost her hearing as a result of the unbearable noises produced by a quarry.

Though not as conspicuous or immediate as in her case, the damage caused by incessant, amplified sounds transmitted from different sources ranging from the lottery seller to your neighbour's cassette players to loudspeakers at the temples or mosques to factories, is equally grave.

Should sounds of this nature be tolerated in the name of religion or entertainment? If not, to what degree should they be regulated or controlled ? Is the use of amplifiers truly necessary to practice one's faith as claimed by some? Or must the Government take cognisance of the multi-religious nature of our society when introducing laws of this nature?

Have your say on the proposed regulations on sound pollution as we take up the issue on Daily News Debate this month. Send in your contributions (in 750-1,000 words) to 'Daily News Debate', Daily News, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, PO Box 1217, Colombo, or via e-mail to [email protected] before October 22, 2007.

For the benefit of the country

It is great to have the feeling Sri Lanka, Paradise or Land like no other as stated by Tourist Promotion is finally giving thought to control pollution. Bold decisions for the benefit of the country and not to please the masses is some encouraging news.

We the people who want the country to be a Paradise or a Land like no other have to congratulate Minister of Environment, Chairman, Central Environment Authority and the Government for having the courage to implement the first dramatic action, banning of two stroke engines.

India, Bangladesh, Nepal had the courage to move them from the street within a few days of implementation of the ban on two stroke engines. The two strokes were converted to four strokes and instead of Patrol, LNG / LPG a less polluting fuel is used in these countries.

They are smarter than the Legislature and people of Sri Lanka as they had the guts to take two steps forward. We are yet to recognise LPG as a less polluting fuel. Those who protested against this intelligent move inclusive of the assembler of two strokes have now adjusted themselves for the benefit of the Country over petty politics, profit and sacrifice of others life.

Leaders of countries who took bold decisions for the benefit of the country are heroes today. That is why Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, India, China and even countries like Costa Rica the same size of Sri Lanka have grown to be more prosperous than the Land like no other Sri Lanka. Costa Rica gets 1.5 m Tourists a year, Sri Lanka 0.5 m and they are one of the largest exporters of Microchips.

We must also take our hats off to the Minister of Environment and Chairman CEA for bringing forward legislature to ban sound Pollution.

The sound level too should be controlled to less than 80 decibels at the perimeter as stipulated for industry and be applicable to Religious institutions, Musical Shows, Political meetings etc. Hope religious groups who have no care for country but petty religious and ethnic beliefs will not exert pressure on CEA to go soft on this legislation.

There should be legislature introduced to control the sound emitted by vehicle engines and horns.

Indiscriminate use of horns is a standard practice in this country and some silencers of vehicles do not silence but emit more noise than they should. The British left the country demarcating Silence Zones. Now Sri Lanka has hardly any silence zones. Where did they go? The Road Authority and the Ministry concerned forgot to demarcate silence zones!!

Next come emissions. Industrial emission is measured at different times by numerous authorities. Air quality of major cities is never measured and public informed.

Most countries have air quality warnings. India too has a daily report on air quality in major cities and drastic steps are being taken to educate public and vehicle users on their responsibility for air quality.

Engines are switched off at colour lights to save fuel and environment. China banned the use of vehicles for a day in Beijing and found a drastic improvement of air quality.

Can this country ever think of banning the movement of vehicles for one day even on a holiday? This country was to start vehicle emission measurement as a Joint Venture with private sector and there was a lot of noise made about it. We are yet to see this happen.

Testing is not sufficient, the vehicles must be returned immediately before they are released back to the road. Then the exercise will be a success. Most petrol vehicles on the street have under performing engines that pollute the air to a greater extent than a well tuned engine.

This happens mostly in State vehicles that are a majority on the road. State organisations do not care as they do not pay for fuel but the tax paying public does. The same goes for diesel powered State vehicles, SLTB, service vehicles.

It is a common sight to see State owned vehicles emitting belching smoke from exhaust and they drive on day after day as they are owned and operated by the State.

Service and Police vehicles are big polluters. Armored vehicles in operations emit so much black, gray and white smoke, it makes me wonder if they use smoke screens. No! These are badly tuned engines.

Most countries that are concerned about the damage caused by poor air quality to living beings are also concerned by the damage caused by poor air quality to their heritage sites, Monuments, Sanctuaries etc. India has banned vehicles in the vicinity of Taj Mahal. Pakistan too is following suit in most of their important places.

I was surprised. In Pakistan the able were made to walk about a kilometer to the sites, and Electric Golf Carts transported the less able. USA, most of Europe, Japan, Australia, vehicles have to be parked miles away from sites.

Authorities offer Echo Friendly, Electric, LNG / LPG operated vehicles for transport of visitors through the sites with the driver or guide giving a live commentary about the visiting site.

When will land like no other get to this level. May it be Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or any other heritage site or Yala and other wild life parks. Bleaching busses overloaded with people are allowed in with loud music and singing.

They even took the horn within the wild life parks. It is high time those who love the Land like no other look into these aspects to enable the Land like no other to remain a Land like no other instead of being categorised as a polluted Land like no other.

It is time the Ministry of Environment and CEA study implement what other countries have done to prevent pollution. India has taken pollution serious and is converting Public Transport, Taxis to LNG / LPG and converting railway to electric. In the West inclusive of Australia vehicles are being converted from petrol / diesel to LNG / LPG.

There are two carmakers in Australia who make LNG / LPG driven vehicles as a first step. Land like no other is yet to see LPG being recognised as a Less Polluting Fuel.

There is not a single bus operated by LPG in the public or private sector. India and Bangladesh are introducing LNG powered busses. A company from Sri Lanka is converting vehicles to LPG in Australia.

If this country is to remain a Land like no other or Paradise, the leaders have to take bold decisions for the benefit of the country and all living beings within, for them to survive in politics.

Take the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia, India and China as example who have the vision, the country first and be in power than be in power and to hell with the country.

Some political parties use cloth for decoration but some use Polythene? That is why the Land like no other is still a Third World while others have reached the developing world.

Minister of Environment, Chairman CEA keep up the good work to benefit the Country, do not be misled by soft arguments but hard words. Stand firm on values. Work for benefit of People and Animals who are to live in the world. Not for the benefit of symbols but for all living beings of Sri Lanka and generations to come.

The writer is Chairman, International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka

Enactment to ban loud speakers welcome

The sound that emanates from loud speakers in Buddhist temples and in street corners loudest as ever is certainly at the expense of a large minority. The majority are irritated, disturbed and annoyed at the nuisance these loud speakers cause.

The mosques, with their early morning call to prayer did not exist in the times of the prophet. Its usage, though initially an advantage, has now lost its relevance. It is the same with other purportedly religious cacophony.

The modern day provides various options when practicing religion, without intruding into others lives. The radio, TV, CD, DVD and other forms of electronic media. It provides access to any religion at any time. Why then loud speakers? Early morning pirith and bana is available on radio for well over 40 years.

It is a statement that reverberates very clearly that the law can be broken in the name of religion. I cannot single out Buddhists, Muslims or Christians of various denominations. During the times of feasts and other merrymaking and observances using loud speakers is not correct without the consent of the public as do the Hindus, but to a lesser degree.

Using loudspeakers in the name of religion therefore becomes a common factor, most significant being that the majority appears to impose their will on the minorities, as was done similarly with language some time back. The result of which is now evident. Can we not learn from our mistakes?

If the government departments propagate the use of loud speakers for their functions, it then becomes legal de facto. Offending sounds come from various forms in addition to religious use, lottery vendors, loud radio use by neighbours, vehicles and musical shows and of course industrial noises from factories.

It is basically their levels that are offensive and a nuisance. Laws to prosecute such nuisances are available, though their enforcement is visibly lacking.

It must also be noted that all these sounds especially loud speakers are offensive not only to humans but to the avifauna as well. I would invite scientific confirmation of this.

Indiscriminate use of loud speakers and proliferation of sound without concern to others is very uncivilised, besides being illegal.

I would welcome any enactments that ban the use of loud speakers, and I exhort the Government to first show intent by enforcing the already existing nuisance laws.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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