Regulators and experts say the relevant laws have many loopholes, and that the agencies involved have limited capacity or other problems in handling noise polluters
Despite there being over half a dozen existing acts, rules and ordinances in place to regulate noise, there is no end in sight for sound pollution in the capital, and increasingly in other major cities.
Apart from the noise pollution on the streets, many public events, concerts and rallies, and even private ones such as weddings and other celebrations continue to contribute to the hellish sounds of Dhaka.
Regulators and experts say the relevant laws have many loopholes, and that the agencies involved have limited capacity or other problems in handling noise polluters.
What are the legal boundaries?
The main law to stop sound pollution, “Noise Pollution (Control) Rules 2006” says no one can exceed the permissible sound level set by the government. It can be exceeded with permission but not after 10pm. However there is no example of Department of Environment, which is the implementing agency for these rules, taking action after 10pm since the agency’s establishment.
Department of Environment (monitoring and enforcement) Director Rubina Ferdousy told the Dhaka Tribune: “Some religious and political programs are exempted by the rules. We investigate when we learn about any violation and take action according to the rules.”
''However, our officials do not work at night,” she added.
On the other hand, it is the duty of city corporations and other local government organizations to mark city zones as silent, mixed, commercial, industrial and residential with noise warning signboards. But this is rarely seen, with only a handful of signs in Dhaka in front of some hospitals and schools.
According to the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976, police can seize loud vehicle horns. Since police do not have enough sound-level measuring devices, they can only seize hydraulic (air) horns. Moreover, it is not a continuous process as traffic police need the commissioner’s order to take such action on streets.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) traffic Sergeant Mahmud Stalin said: “If we try to stop vehicles in order to seize hydraulic horns,it will clog up the roads. Our main duty is to keep the traffic smooth.”
“We do not have sound measuring devices,” he added.
Director (ICT) of the Department of Environment and ‘Coordinated and Participatory Program to control sound pollution’ program Director Farid Ahmed said: “We have obtained 200 different sound level measuring devices. Some were sent to the traffic police and some to DoE offices.”
Punishment for deliberate noise pollution can go up to one month imprisonment or Tk5,000 fine for a first time offense. For a later offence, the punishment can go up to six months or Tk10,000 fine or both.
For using loud horns, the punishment is a Tk100 fine.
When law enforcement is helpless
The law enforcement often findsitself unable to take action against sound polluters, especially when high-profile venues openly flout the rules.
The International Recreation club, commonly known as IC Club, next to the Australian embassy and roughly 100 yards from Gulshan police station, holds frequent events with loud music often past midnight. Gulshan Police have received repeated complaints from residents of the area about the noise.
When asked, Md Aminul Islam, Inspector (Operation) of Gulshan police station, said: “They (IC Club) make loud noise past midnight. We have received several complaints and approached the club to tell them to bring it down, but they do not care. They do not allow us inside.”
“We feel helpless, as the club is operated by foreigners. If we forcibly enter the club, there might be a diplomatic problem. That is why we cannot do anything even though the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance permits us to do so.”
This reporter reached out in person and via e-mail to the club authorities, but they did not respond.
Horns that produce more than 75 decibels of noise are banned in Bangladesh. However, vehicle horns are often louder, in particular the hydraulic (air) horns.
According to a recent government study, roughly 80% of people blamed vehicle horns as the main source of sound pollution.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) seized 122 hydraulic horns from various vehicles last October. BRTA Deputy Director (enforcement) ASM Hasan Al Amin said: “We run eight mobile courts in Dhaka and they have to do many other works. Since hydraulic hornsare cheap, the offenders canjust buy another one when we seize theirs. The National Board of Revenue should be strict in monitoring the import of hydraulic horns,since they are banned.”
NBR Member (Customs policy and ICT) Md Firoz Shah Alam refused to comment on the matter.