Citation: AIR 2000 SC 2773
Bench: M B Shah, J., S.N. Phukan, J.
“The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath” (Psalm 94:11). When God can hear our minds, then why do we require to enchant the prayers loudly? Is it to show off or does God needs to listen to a specific section more? The loud music while praying creates a nuisance, but it also makes noise pollution unsuitable for our environment. There are several laws which can be considered as the knight for the environment. We can look upon the acts like Environment Protection Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, The Wildlife Protection Act or the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and The Indian Forest Act. In the current case, we analyse the noise pollution created by a church while performing prayers and how it affects the public.
Parties to the case:
The appellant– the Church of God (Full Gospel) (Church for short) located at K.K.R. Nagar, Madhavaram High Road, Chennai.
The Respondent -KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Association (Welfare Association for short)
It has to be mentioned that the church had a prayer hall for Pentecostal Christians and was filled with musical instruments such as drum kit, triple gang, guitar, etc., which is used for prayers.
The present case is the respondent complaints against the church to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. In the prayers in the church, it was noted that loudspeakers, drums, and other equipment generated sound-induced sound pollution, disrupting and annoying the ordinary day-to-day life of the settlement inhabitants.
The Church reasonably and directly argued that the lawsuit was an oblique excuse to prohibit a religious minority organization from carrying out its religious practises, which they believe in. The Court cannot provide any order to restrict the Church from doing so. They also said that the noise pollution created was due to plying of vehicles and not due to the use of loudspeakers etc. It was also mentioned by the counsel of the Court that the right to profess and practice Christianity is protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian constitution which cannot be dislodged by directing the authorities to have a check on the church. The Welfare Association also kept their contentions, stating that the church has deliberately tried to give religious colour to this cause of action. The Welfare Association is made up of members of all faiths and religions. Hence it is objected that, even if the church’s claim that the noise emitted by it is beyond the prescribed limit is taken as it is, the order passed by the High Court would in no way prejudice the right of the appellant’s religious activity, because the order of the High Court only concerns the reduction of noise pollution in that area. Further, pursuant to Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the High Court might issue orders to protect and preserve a very fundamental right of people. The respondents were also questioned whether the noise created by the church does not make noise pollution? Or doesn’t it affect the other known rights of a citizen?
After looking into a Madras High Court case of Appa Rao, M.S. vs Government of Tamil Nadu & Another and article which appeared in the August 1982 Issue of Science Today and a copy of the ICMR Bulletin of July 1979 containing a Study on Noise Pollution in South India wherein it is pointed out that noise pollution will lead to severe nervous disorders, emotional tension leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, increase in cholesterol level resulting in heart attacks and strokes and even damage to the foetus. The Court held in favour of the respondents and stated that requisite steps must be taken to reduce the noise level to the degree allowed by taking measures against noise-producing cars and having the church keep its speakers lower level. The survey report presented by the Welfare Board would indicate that the church was not the only contributor to noise, and it seemed that noise interference was also attributed to the plying of cars. The Judge found out that there was nothing sinister or malicious to pose any hindrance to the free exercise of the church’s religious religion, and that if the noise generated by the church exceeds the allowable decibels, it must be silenced.
The question here is what made the Judge take such a decision?
The Court held an ideology that it could not be said that the religious teachers, or the faith figures who set down these tenets, had in some way wanted the use of microphones as a means of practising religion. Undoubtedly, religion should be exercised, professed and propagated as guaranteed under Article 25(1) of the Constitution, but it is not considered as an absolute right. Article 25 is subject to Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. As regards the actual and proper construction of the clause of Article 25(1), read in Article 19(1) (a) of constitution, it cannot be assumed that a person should be required to hear anything that he does not like or that he does not need.
In Appa Rao, M.S. V. Government of Tamil Nadu & Other Writ of Mandamus ordering the Government of the State to impose stringent requirements for licencing the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers and directing the Director-General of the Police to impose a complete ban on the use of horn-type loudspeakers and amplifiers and car horns. When we think of the loud noise produced by the religious institutions, be it the temples, mosques, churches or any other institution. The question comes to our minds that it is vital to pray that it violates the public’s rights who get disturbed by the same. Article 21 of the Indian constitution provides its citizens with a peaceful and decent environment, due to sleep at night, and a right to leisure, all of the necessary ingredients of the right to life.
Under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, guidelines for the degree of noise pollution are laid down and provide for the allowable levels of noise in residential, commercial, industrial or silent areas. The question is whether the appellant should be allowed to infringe the said provisions and contribute to the pollution caused by noise? In our opinion, it would be unjustifiable to assert such a right itself. Nowadays, the issue of noise pollution has become more severe due to the growing movement towards industrialization, urbanization and modernization and has many adverse consequences, including the danger to health. It may induce sleep disturbance, communication, lack of effectiveness, hearing or hearing loss, high blood pressure, depression, irritability, exhaustion, stomach issues, asthma, distraction, mental stress and agitation, etc. This also impacts wildlife. The degree of harm depends on the duration and the severity of the noise. Often it adds to a significant concern with law and order. Furthermore, in an ordered community, rights are tied to responsibilities towards others, including neighbours.
In 2005 In the case of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti and Justice Ashok Bhan provided sweeping directions on the use of loudspeakers and horns, including noise created in private residences. The directions also protected the noise produced by firecrackers, loudspeakers, car noise, etc. The Court also stressed the need for education in textbooks in this regard. The use of speakers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in public places (except in emergency situations) The decibel level of megaphones or public address systems like speakers should not exceed 10 dB (A) above the surrounding noise standards for the area or 75 dB (A), or whichever is lower. The court issued a sweeping ruling on noise pollution under the exercise of its powers under Articles 141 and 142 of the Indian Constitution, which made it the legal authority of the land until such time as the Parliament legislated on the matter.
The judgment given by the metro states: Madras High Court had the opportunity to consider the use of a loudspeaker in a temple. HC held that the rule of law requires, more than anything else, that all laws enacted by the Parliament and the State Legislatures be carried out faithfully by officials, and that the orders of the Courts be complied with. The Kerala High Court argued that religious institutions’ singing of devotional songs should be inconsistent with the law. Whatever the reason for playing devolution songs in the early morning and at night, or at any moment, it must be in compliance with the regulations in place. Calcutta High Court extended the principle of judicial activism when determining if the ban on the manufacture of noise-polluting fireworks is valid. Judicial advocacy confers on the court the power to be active and not to be passive in order to protect the interests, duties and responsibilities of the people.
Undoubtedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be done by disrupting the quiet of others or that they should be performed by speech amplifiers or by pounding drums. In our opinion, in a civilized society in the name of religion, practises which disrupt elderly or infirm people, students or children who sleep early or during the day or other activities cannot be tolerated. It cannot be overlooked that young children in the area are still allowed to enjoy their inherent right to sleep in a safe environment. A student studying for his or her test is entitled to focus on his or her study without any undue disruption on the part of his or her neighbours. In the same way, the aged and the infirm are allowed to experience fair quietness during their free period without any noise disturbance. Old, ill, individuals with psychiatric disabilities as well as infants up to 6 years of age, are known to be very vulnerable to noise. Their interests must, therefore, be upheld.
Let’s look at certain landmark case laws for noise pollution:
In Kirori Mal Bishhamber Dayal vs The state, the accused was convicted under section 290 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and was sentenced and fined Rs. 5 for causing noise and emitting smoke and vibration by operating heavy machinery in the residence area. The High Court of Punjab & Haryana upheld this particular decision.
In Bhuban Ram and Ors vs Bibhuti Bhushan Biswas (AIR 1919 Calcutta 539), it was held that the working of the paddy husking machine at night time could cause nuisance by noise to the individual or public and therefore the occupier was also held liable and was punished under section 290 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
In Rabin Mukherjee vs State of West Bengal, the use of air horns was prohibited by the diligent court to prevent noise pollution.
In P.A. Jacob vs The Superintendent of Police, the Kerala high court stated that the right to speech implies the right to silence. It means freedom, not to listen and to be forced to hear. A person can decline or reject to read a publication or switch off a radio or a TV set, but he cannot prevent the sound from a loudspeaker reaching him. He could be coerced to hear even if he does not wish to. This would be an invasion of his rights to be let alone. The court held that no one has the right to trespass even on the minds or ear of another and commit auricular or visual aggression. A loudspeaker is considered to be a mechanical device. The abuser cannot use his machine to injure someone or anyone.
In Hardeep Singh & Others SDMC & Others, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders that the authorities of Delhi Government who failed to comply with the orders of the Green Tribunal and hence directed the government itself to deposit a sum of Rs. 5 Lakhs with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within a week duration and issued a term of one month to the authorities to request a compliance report on the inability of the government’s statutory authorities to regulate noise pollution in line with the statutory requirement of Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000.
The complaint (OA No. 519 of 2016 before the Principal Bench of the NGT, New Delhi) was filed alleging the use of DJ systems, music systems, public address systems at weddings or other events, and the production of noise at odd times adversely affecting the health of people.
In its previous order, the Tribunal ordered the Chief Secretary, Delhi, the Commissioner for Police, Delhi, and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to take action to implement the Supreme Court’s directive on the use of loudspeakers, vehicle noise control and awareness-raising. The Police Commissioner was asked to appoint the DCP, and the Chief Secretary was asked to nominate the SDM, and each had to meet once a week to take stock of the situation. They were guided to set up an entire website and a dedicated helpline, apart from others.
The High Court of Kerala in K.R. Raveendran Pillai Pastor Prince Koshy ordered that the respondents, a theological seminary, carrying on the prayers in a privately owned prayer hall, would be obliged to follow the Supreme Court directions in regard to noise pollution in its 2005 judgement scrupulously.
Lastly, it may be stated that, due to urbanization or industrialization, noise emissions which in some area of the city/town surpass the allowable limits laid down in the regulations, but that will not be a justification for allowing others to increase the noise pollution by beating drums or by using speech amplifiers, loudspeakers or other musical instruments and, hence, the prescriptive rules. It was also noted in the case that, while the rules are unambiguous, there is a lack of understanding among people as well as the implementing authorities about the regulations or their responsibility to enforce them. Noise polluting practises, which are rampant and yet for one reason or another, are not enforced by the above laws or by the rules laid down in various State Police Acts. The High Court has now rightly ordered the application of the same process. Accordingly, the appeal was rejected as a result.