Oh what a commotion!

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By 2017-07-16

By Risidra Mendis
Ceylon Today Features

Waking up early in the morning to the blaring noise of a mobile bread man's horn cannot be pleasant especially if you happen to be a person who has done the day shift at your office and have to catch up on your sleep at night. Similarly if you were forcibly woken up at the crack of dawn to the loud chanting of pirith from a temple near-by or the call for prayer at around 4.30 a.m. from a mosque in the area it would definitely be a nightmare.

But loud and ear splitting noises are a common occurrence these days and have now become a part of our lives. While on the road we are exposed to the blasting and ear splitting noises of vehicle horns and trishaws whizzing past us with their radios on full blast. Some of us are also forced to listen to the blaring music of English or Sinhala songs when a mobile lottery seller decides to ride past us on his push cycle with his mini loudspeaker on high volume.

If you happen to be living close to a neighbour who believes in partying all the time or near a reception hall that has regular functions that too could be a serious problem on your stress levels and nervous system in the long run, when you are exposed to loud and blaring music. The mobile bread men that many people eagerly wait for in the morning to buy their breakfast from are also considered by some as a public nuisance because they have no sound control on their speakers when announcing their presence in the area.

Commuters in buses are also faced with loud noises when they are forced to listen to the high volumes of blaring music on the radio. Waiting for a bus at a bus halt can also be a traumatic experience when you hear the blaring horns of buses as they try to outdo each other in getting to the bus halt first.

However according to environmentalists the biggest noise pollution culprits now are the Buddhist temples and mosques that have no problem in switching on their loudspeakers with no concern for the people living in the nearby areas.
When some Buddhist temples celebrate their religious festivals right throughout the night those in the vicinity are forced to listen to the sounds of drums and Buddhist monks chanting pirith on the loudspeakers. These loudspeakers are most often fixed miles away from the temple premises in residential areas and on main roads.

People living close to mosques are forced to listen to the call of prayer on blaring loudspeakers five times of the day.
"Noise pollution can be dealt with under the National Environment Act and the Motor Vehicle Act. Excessive noise is a public nuisance. But the relevant authorities can take action against those who violate the law. The police can take action against those who are responsible for making loud noises. The local government authority of the area, the Municipal Councils, the Colombo Municipal Council, the Pradeshiya Sabha and the Urban Councils are responsible for taking action against those who make loud noises," Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena told Ceylon Today.

However many people have faced situations where the police have failed to take action against religious leaders of Buddhist temples and mosques using loudspeakers at the crack of dawn and in the middle of the night. When distressed residents inform the police about the unbearable noise in the area the police in most cases request those using the loudspeakers to reduce the volume or switch it off and leave.

An official from the Police Media Unit commenting on noise pollution in the country said anybody who is been harassed by loud noises can call 119. "There are laws for noise pollution and anybody can complain if they are been harassed by loud noises from loudspeakers," the Police Media Unit official said.

"No religious place of worship should make a loud noise. We get complaints about Buddhist temples and mosques using loud speakers and disturbing people in the area. Religious noise pollution should not be happening. A case has already been filed against a temple priest at a temple situated between Kirulapone and Narahenpita for having the loudspeaker on at 4 a.m.," Director Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Hemantha Withanage said.

He added that loudspeakers are permitted for certain time limits for functions and that there should be an equal law for everybody irrespective of what the religion is. "When we get a complaint from the people of the area about a temple using loudspeakers we inform the monk of the temple about the complaint. The monk asks us why people are complaining about temples using loudspeakers when Muslim mosques also make a big noise with loudspeakers. If we tell an Imam of the Mosque that the people of the area are complaining about loud noises, they ask us why people complain about loud noises when temples also use loudspeakers for their religious festivals," Withanage said.

Attorney-at- Law Seneka Weeraratna said the Interim Order to control noise pollution SC Application FR 38 / 05 was delivered by the Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Justices Shiranee Tilakawardena and A.M. Somawansa on 9 November 2007.

The proceedings in this case commenced with an application by the Trustees of the Kapuwatte Mohideen Jumma Mosque of Weligama impleading the action of the 2nd Respondent, in not issuing a loudspeaker permit under Section 81 of the Police Ordinance to the extent permitted in previous years and in imposing restrictions on such use, as being in breach of their fundamental rights.

Weeraratna was the eighth Respondent in this case where complaints were made against the use of loudspeakers by mosques. In his affidavit dated 29.6.2007, Weeraratna contradicted the claim of the Petitioners for unrestricted use of loudspeakers in the call to prayer from the mosque and said such unrestricted use makes captive listeners of people of other religious faiths and violates the fundamental rights of the general public, such as the right to silence and the right to quiet enjoyment of property.

As a matter of personal experience, he contended in Paragraph 4 of his affidavit that he is an aggrieved party as a result of similar conduct at a place of worship situated on the Marine Drive between Jaya Road and Nimal Road in a residential area in Colombo where the high pitched sound of a call to prayer is amplified five times a day beginning in the early hours of the morning, that is at 5.00 a. m. and ending at 8.15 p.m. and is repeated daily and which conduct is causing unnecessary hardship and much disturbance to residents in the neighbourhood the majority of whom belong to other religious faiths and which locality comprise in addition to residential dwellings such as schools, private Accountancy Studies Institutions, Buddhist Temples, Kovils and Churches.

"The second Respondent has produced marked "2R4A" to "2R4G" photocopies of some of the complaints and affidavits of persons, all of whom are Muslims that specifically state that noise pollution resulting from excessive noise emitted from loudspeakers of the mosque, has caused severe health problems. The A.S.P. has stated that it was in these circumstances that he reduced the use of loud speakers in the call for prayer to three minutes since in his view as a Muslim that period is adequate. The Petitioners have not sought to contradict the material adduced by the 2nd Respondent. Section 23P to Section 23R of the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 as amended provided for restrictions on noise pollution," Weeraratna explained.

He added that the Judgment of this Court handed down in the year 1895 in the case reported in Marshall vs Gunaratne Unnanse where the principal trustee of a Buddhist vihare in Colombo was charged for creating noise in the night and disturbing the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. "The report to Court was under the then applicable Section 90 of the Police Ordinance. Considering the particular circumstances of the case Bonser C.J., upholding the conviction stated as follows "...the idea must not be entertained that a noise, which is an annoyance to the neighbourhood, is protected if it is made in the course of a religious ceremony. No religious body, whether Buddhist, or Protestant, or Catholic, is entitled to commit a public nuisance, and no license under Section 90 of The Police Ordinance, 1865 will be a protection against proceedings under the Penal Code, though it may protect them from proceedings under the Police Ordinance," Weeraratna explained.

"Shah J, in his Judgment as to "Whether a particular community or sect of that community can claim right to add to noise pollution on the ground of religion states that undisputedly no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others nor does it preach that they should be through voice-amplifiers or beating of drums."

"The much respected Piyadassi Thera in his work titled The Buddha's Ancient Path has stated that there must necessarily be a close proximity between the person chanting and the person who is listening. Blaring forth the sacred suttas and disturbing the stillness of the environment, forcing it on ears of persons who do not invite such chant is the antithesis of the Buddha's teaching,"said Weeraratna.

"The following directions in terms of Article 126(4) of the Constitution were that the emission of noise by the use of amplifiers, loudspeakers or other equipment or appliances which causes annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity be considered a public nuisance in terms of Section 261 of the Penal Code and that the police should entertain complaints and take appropriate action for the abatement of such public nuisance. All permits issued by the Police under Section 80(1) of the Police Ordinance shall cease to be effective forthwith. That no permits shall be issued in terms of Section 80(1) of the Police Ordinance other instruments for the amplification of noise as specified in that section covering the period 10 p.m.

(night) to 6 a.m. (morning). Such permits may be issued for special religious functions and other special events only after ascertaining the views of persons who occupy land premises in the vicinity, a record of such matters to be maintained and the grant of any such permit shall be forthwith reported to the nearest Magistrates Court," Weeraratna said.

He added that in respect of the hours from 6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. permits may be issued for limited periods of time for specific purpose subject to the strict condition that the noise emitted from such amplifier or loudspeaker or equipment does not extend beyond the precincts of the particular premises and that where a permit is issued in terms of Section 80(1) sufficient number of Police Officers should be designated and posted to the particular place of use to ensure that the conditions imposed are strictly complied with" Weeraratna said.

"Government officials and the police should get involved to solve this problem and the biggest problem is a lack of enforcement," Withanage explained.

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