SSSHH! NO HONKING OKAY?

Authorities collect data on noise pollution, but rarely take offenders to task when the levels are above acceptable standards, despite clearly stated norms declaring hospitals, courts and educational institutions as silence zones
SSSHH! NO HONKING OKAY?
A steady stream of vehicles seen outside an educational institution

Chennai

The habit of honking by motorists and the lack of a stringent mechanism to curb the habit by regulatory authorities, are resulting in high decibel levels in the city, particularly near hospitals. Educational institutions and hospitals have been declared ‘silence zones’, and using the horns in vehicles is strictly prohibited. 
For a severe diabetic like Vimala, who visits the ICF Hospital, Perambur on a regular basis, it is the entire experience of travelling for treatment that is more traumatic than the complications arising from the condition.  Non-stop vehicular movement on the nearby New Avadi Road, and the constant honking have made her commute a nightmare. Similarly, S Vivek and his family, who have been seeking treatment at the hospital for many years now, say the noise levels in and around the vicinity have gone from bad to worse over the years. He says, “I have not seen a no-honking sign anywhere near the hospital till date. I went there even two days ago.” 
Smrithi Menon, who lives near Apollo Hospitals, wakes up to noise every day. From the incessant honking of vehicles to the noisy autos, there is not a minute of silence near the ever-busy Greams Road stretch. She says, “I often wonder what will be the state of patients who are inside the hospital. The noise pollution is an onslaught on the ears. But that’s the case outside many hospitals in the city. Even Billroth Hospital, located at a traffic junction in RA Puram is noisy, thanks to the commuters who honk even at signals.” 
Adverse impact on health 
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a ‘silence zone is referred as areas up to 100 meters around such premises as hospitals, educational institutions and courts. The silence zones are to be declared by the Competent Authority. It further states that use of vehicular horns, loudspeakers and bursting of crackers shall be banned in these zones. 
Doctors say that noise can have a detrimental effect on anyone and the effect is severe when one is ill. Dr S Sivaram Kannan, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Kauvery Hospital says, “Apart from the auditory effects like hearing loss, it can lead to stress and anxiety, affect a person’s blood pressure, cardiac and breathing rhythm, apart from the psychological implications. These can have an adverse effect on a person recovering from a surgery or having any cardiac or respiratory issues. They are supposed to be recuperating in peace.” 
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) monitors noise levels through ten stations at Egmore Eye Hospital, Triplicane, T Nagar, Anna Nagar, Pallikaranai, Washermanpet, Velachery, Sowcarpet, Guindy and Perambur. According to officials, Guindy has the highest noise levels. An official adds, “The noise levels continue to be alarming in several parts of the city and Guindy among them tops the list. The Egmore Eye Hospital station record relatively low levels; we wanted to place 
one at the Stanley Hospital, but weren’t granted permission.” 
Officials point out that hospitals are spread across zones and these also include commercial and residential areas. “Take the case of T Nagar - it is both residential and commercial; it is therefore a mixed zone. Though Manali is an industrial area, we do have residential plots coming up there,” the an official adds. 
Who is responsible? 
While the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board monitors the noise pollution levels, the officials say that the initiative to implement and ensure silence zones remain noise free rests with the local bodies, in association with the police. However, when DTNext contacted Corporation officials, they pointed fingers at the TNPCB.  Additional Police Commissioner-Traffic, Abhay Kumar Singh says, “There is a grey area about this implementation, and no-horn boards are just one of the many responsibilities. That is not the only focus area for us or any local body.” 
It is double whammy for the patients who come to Parvathy Hospital located on GST Road 
that bears the brunt of the noise from the railway station nearby and the highway. However, the hospital has taken measures to reduce the impact. Dr S Muthukumar, Chairman of the hospital, says, “We installed no- horn boards with the help of the local police. We also ensure that the traffic movement in front of the hospital and within the compound is constantly moving, so that no one has to honk. Apart from that, we have high rise, insulated walls and ceilings to block noise from entering ICUs or rooms where patients are admitted.” 
Another effective solution would be to locate hospitals in the outskirts. “But that is not a viable solution for those who have to travel to hospitals frequently, or in case of an emergency,” says Dr Sivaram. 
The best way forward is to educate commuters and people, admits Dr K Kolandaisamy, Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. “Hospitals can locate their ICUs and patient wards inside, but that doesn’t give the public the right to honk. Much like garbage, noise has become an integral part of our lives,” he says.

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