21 July, 2024


Protecting Commuters’ Ears & Rights

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr. 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.  

Sound pollution, horns, law and police

Facing the Music for booming Sounds inside vehicles  

End of Noise pollution in buses

No more loud music inside private buses 

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

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Latest comments

  • 3

    The noise problem in buses is not something that can be attributed to just bus operators abusing their customers with loud, blaring cacophony that renders them deaf after being subjected to it for long enough. Actually, this is not a problem that is limited to buses or temples using loud-speakers and destroying the quiet serenity of residential neighborhoods. it has to do with a dire lack of the rule of law. The police are as corrupt or are more so than ordinary people. They engage in crime with impunity. So too, those people who believe they can escape the law. The wide spectrum of blatant impunity and contempt for the law of the land has seeped into every aspect of life in Sri Lanka. The powerful merely escape while the weak are caught and harassed. Until a radical and fundamental overhaul of the system is carried out by a new political order, nothing will change for the better. It is time for the people to rise against their oppressors.

  • 0

    Dear Vipula,

    be it sound exposure laws or any other violations within buses and cities are openly neglected in that country. What about spit out from bus windows first by Drivers AND conductors and then the commuters. This is how their culture is maintained in that hell.
    thanks for raising this issue. Each time back in Home country, I question myself not once several dozens of time, why on earth, our bus commuters stay like eternally deaf even if they cant bear the sound exposure in public buses. I myself have forced conductors to lessen the volume of their music set up. some respected it and others not. here in europe, if they would play their music louder than the due decible levels, negibours would call the police. The law an dorder in that hell is not rigorously applied for some reasons. I really dont know why on earth people abuse their votes for electing law makers that dont bring no law reforms and new laws to tame the culprits. We overestimate but we are a doomed nation by all means.

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