We all know that noise pollution is part of living in a metropolitan city. We've become accustomed to the din of constant traffic, and the hustle and bustle of daily life in a city as overpopulated as ours. There is no real easy fix for this sort of noise that is part and parcel of living in Dhaka. But what about the forms of noise pollution that we can do something about, when noise is no longer a pollutant but a nuisance?
I'm talking, of course, about the illegal levels at which music is played at events especially in residential areas. The wedding season is undoubtedly the worst time for this, but now that partying has become a bit more DIY (Do It Yourself), the loud music is no longer restricted to halls. Instead, with even the most basic of sound systems, regular rooftops are converted to mini venues and music is played at an insufferably loud volume into the early hours of the morning.
There was a story in the news a few weeks ago where a man died following an altercation that arose over an argument about loud music. Needless to say, this tragedy could have been completely avoided had the guilty party adhered to the legal volume limits. After all, is it too much to ask for a little peace and quiet from your neighbours so you can be comfortable in your own home, especially if the racket is happening late at night?
Dhaka Metropolitan Police recently issued a press release urging citizens to refrain from using loudspeakers and so on in residential areas, but what's the use if the law isn't enforced? The police regulations state in no unclear terms that if it is “necessary to do so for the purpose of preventing annoyance, disturbance, or discomfort” or even the risk of those things, the Police Commissioner may “prohibit, restrict, regulate, or impose conditions on the use or continuance in any area, premises, or vehicles, of microphones, loudspeakers or other instruments for amplifying music or other sound.” But it's clear that the authorities take a very lax approach to these rules because you can find music blaring from rooftops very regularly. People either don't bother complaining because nothing will come of it, or have resigned themselves to the inevitable disturbance that loud parties cause.
Hotels are especially notorious for this. Our apartment is in close vicinity of two hotels in Gulshan, which often have loud music playing quite late at night. In the UK, cases like this can fall under statutory nuisances, covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Individual councils deal with complaints about loud noises caused by a variety of reasons, including music from loudspeakers. For noise to count as a statutory nuisance, it must either “unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises,” or “injure health or be likely to injure health.” Councils can issue warning notices about complaints about noise above permitted levels between 11pm and 7am. There are several laws and regulations in place that grant local authorities the power to deal with nuisances like this in a number of appropriate methods, such as imposing fines, issuing community protection notices or civil injunctions, or even serving closure notices or orders.
Councils can also make decisions about building controls, such as checking if sound insulation is adequate for example, which I believe buildings in Dhaka are severely lacking. Venues in the UK require licenses for music entertainment if they will be providing amplified music in the hours between 11pm and 8am. Those that have experienced the loud music from parties in Dhaka will be able to attest to the fact that the entertainment goes on past 11pm in almost all cases.
Noise complaints don't seem to be taken as seriously in Bangladesh as they do in the UK, despite the same root causes bringing about the same kind of detriment. The laws in Bangladesh don't necessarily need a reform, they just need to be enforced properly with serious consequences to those that disregard them. It's grossly unfair for neighbours and surrounding residents to have to settle for sleepless nights because of loud music being played in close proximity. It leads to a whole host of issues if left unchallenged. Sleepless nights lead to stress, which can lead to mental health issues and even physical health issues, if they take place over a long enough period of time. It's a matter of common sense and a little human decency to not cause the people around you (or people in general) to feel uncomfortable or distressed in the sanctity of their own homes.
Nazmul Haque was only 65 and died because he protested against the loud music being played by his neighbours. His neighbours deemed the volume of their music to be more important than his life. Had they even a shred of respect they would have complied with his request to turn the volume down, but instead they decided to take physical action. Fear of repetition of this incident is bound to discourage other people from approaching their neighbours, and when there is little faith in the authorities to clamp down on disruptive behaviour like this, what other options does a person have? To suffer in silence (or lack thereof)?
Zahrah Haider is a journalism graduate and freelance writer currently living in the UK.