When most people will be joining the revelries and spending time with their families at night, Sumaira Abdulali, environmentalist and convenor of the Awaaz Foundation, will be measuring the noise levels in different parts of the city. Armed with a simple handheld noise or decibel metre, she will measure decibel levels in large parts of the city during Diwali celebrations to fortify her campaign against noise pollution.
Abdulali has been doing this since 2003. She works on those nights which have a high likelihood of producing unhealthy levels of noise pollution. “During Diwali, I am out for one or two nights, during Ganpati it’s two or three. I am out during other festivities like Navratri, Dussehra, weddings and the Mahim festival in December. It’s not a continuous year-long exercise, most of the work is concentrated in the festive season,” she said.
During these nights, she leaves her Bandra home between 7.30 to 8 pm and heads towards Juhi, Andheri and Versova. While she tries to cover as much of the city as possible, the areas she prioritises depends on the festival. During Navratri, she goes as far as Ghatkopar, Malad and Borivli, but the noisiest areas are towards Juhu. Girgaon is a high priority area during Ganesh Chaturthi. This Diwali, she will start with Juhu, Andheri and Versova, after which she intends to turn around for Dharavi and reach Girgaum Chowpatty — which is likely to have the greatest concentration of noise — before 10 pm.
How long she stays out for also depends entirely on the festival. “For Ganesh Chaturthi, I’m out till around 1 or 2 am, even though the deadline for the use of loudspeakers is midnight, which is simply not adhered to,” she said. Her rounds extend till 2 am during Diwali as well, during which the limit for bursting crackers is 10 pm. “Navratri celebrations usually wind up by midnight though,” she added.
Abdulali is not alone in her endeavour. Hundreds of residents from all over the city volunteer to give her inputs about noise levels in their areas. While she travels around the city in a vehicle, she has to step out and walk around to capture the sounds of the city.
“It’s amazing that I have never felt threatened at any point of time while carrying out this exercise. Far from being hostile, people are actually very curious. They come up to me and ask me if the sound levels they are producing are safe and whether they should try to keep it down a little,” she said. The noise level readings that she collects during her night expeditions are submitted to the police to prompt action.
She has been encouraging people to use a noise level measuring App on their phones and send their readings to the police directly as well. During the least few festive months of this year, the organisation has produced 61 readings in court.
She says that five years ago, 100 per cent of the crackers being produced were violating permitted decibel levels, but this year, all crackers were within permissible limits.
“Sometimes, it feels strange that while everybody is celebrating, I’m going around the city taking readings,” she laughs. “But I try to look at it positively. There is a great pleasure in doing something useful for society and trying to counter a major health hazard. Besides, my family ends up forgiving me for being absent and I can always light a diya and celebrate the next day,” she said.