By Vipula Wanigasekera –
Referring to an article in a Sunday newspaper way back in 2010, we revisit a persisting issue in today’s context: the blaring music that plagues most privately operated buses in Sri Lanka. The said news item stated that ‘The new laws will extend to the use of megaphones, loudspeakers, gramophones and any instrument that automatically, mechanically, electrically or electronically produces, reproduces or amplifies sound’.
These regulations were touted as cutting-edge, with state-of-the-art technology poised to monitor sound levels from vendors and vehicles. The article further specified ‘Special technology will be used to measure sound levels. Noise levels exceeding 63 decibels (dB) will be prohibited by law’.
The authorities had come hard on noise pollution in private buses from time to time with following headings.
Youtube video on ‘Noise Pollution in Sri Lankan private buses’
However, it seems the only tangible outcome was the issuance of Gazette No. 1738/37-29 in 2011, which only pertained to vehicle horns, leaving the issue of loud music on public transport unaddressed.
Speculations regarding why regulations to curb loud music have not materialized include claims that passengers enjoy the music or that drivers need it to stay alert. These explanations lack substantiated evidence from actual commuters and confuse the issue of driver fatigue with the need for blaring music. If necessary, one sound system can be placed right under the driver’s seat to prevent drivers from succumbing to drowsiness.
The core problem lies in adhering to accepted decibel levels if music is considered essential during commutes. In such cases, sound levels should enable passengers to converse, take phone calls, or enjoy their own music via hands-free headsets which is not the case in most privately run public transport.
It appears that politicians and senior officials lack firsthand experience of the agony passengers endure during their daily commutes. Perhaps not even the readers of this article. Almost every privately operated bus in Sri Lanka carries robust sound systems, well fitted to ensure that every passenger is exposed, including infants, to a continuous barrage of noise with the high tempo beat.
This differs significantly from musical performances where loud music serves an artistic and dance purpose where the authorities have to evaluate such decisions to strike a balance. In cases like the use of loudspeakers in places of worship, politicians may hesitate to intervene for obvious reasons.
In one juncture, a former Minister and a few others quite courageously took a decision to go to courts against a temple using loud speakers and succeeded in getting a verdict in favour of the complainants. The poor commuters do not have the means to take these bus operators to task.
This article suggests that authorities should take measures within their capacity to address this issue. The public should not be at the mercy of an irrational minority of drivers and conductors who seem indifferent to their well-being. Due to fear of immediate backlash and verbal abuse, the public rarely voices their concerns.
As National Centre for Biotechnology Information which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine, revealed in 2017 ‘humans have a hearing threshold of around 0 decibels. Above this threshold, sounds with higher sound pressure levels are heard as louder noises. Sounds above 90 dB can lead to chronic hearing damage if people are exposed to them every day or all the time‘
To quote World Health Organization: ‘excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.’ and this is a single major issue which affects the lower middle class comprising majority of commuters in Sri Lanka.
One may ask – if a seemingly straightforward problem like this cannot be rectified through practical governance citing health reasons, addressing more complex national issues may continue to remain elusive in Sri Lanka.
*Writer is a former diplomat, head of the tourism authority/Convention Bureau, Academic, and currently a wellness practitioner specializing in meditation and healing therapy