Mumbai motorists raise din with extreme honking; decibel levels rise

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Unnecessary honking is an offence, but the cacophony on Mumbai roads may make an outsider believe that it is the right of the motorists. Not just the roads, the obsession with blowing horns is omnipresent – housing societies, hospitals, schools and malls, etc. There is no escape.

Laxmi Shetty, a bus commuter, says there are places like the road outside Sion railways station and Bhendi Bazar where it is almost impossible to talk on the mobile phone due to high noise levels emanating from vehicles moving at a snail's pace.

"In fact, I feel pity for the shopkeepers of these areas because they have to put up with the high-decibel surroundings from morning till late evening," said Shetty.

For Narendra Rao, his recent visit to Europe was a huge relief in terms of noisy cars. "For days on, I didn't hear any honking. It was such a pleasant experience," said the businessman from Bandra.

Noise pollution activists and officials attribute the scene to a sharp rise in the number of vehicles on city roads. According to Regional Transport Office data, an average of about 450 vehicles are registered everyday. These add to the traffic jams that authorities and citizens are already struggling to deal with.

Incessant honking is a common sight, or rather sound, when a signal turns green in Mumbai. "People think by honking they will reach their destination much faster. The fact is that it is never going to clear a traffic jam. Also, it is irritating for other motorists. On many occasions, motorists honk even when the light is are red," said a traffic police officer.

Under the law, a driver can be fined Rs100 if found honking unnecessarily. Traffic officials say they conduct drives to intercept erring drivers. "Usually these campaigns are conducted near traffic signals where people honk the most," said an official.

In 2008, the Mumbai traffic police with the support of anti-noise activists had initiated a campaign to misuse of pressurised, musical and reverse horns. But the programme seems to have lost steam over the years.

According to official figures, the number of cases registered for this infraction – termed as 'Honking Horn' – has seen a decline over the years (see box). However, activists point this trend to weak enforcement.

"Honking has certainly not reduced, it has only increased along with more vehicles coming on the roads on a daily basis. It is the enforcement that needs to happen," said anti-noise pollution crusader Sumaira Abdulali of Awaz Foundation.

Officials say the problem has a lot to do with the level of awareness among motorists. While several lanes, and areas around schools and hospitals have been marked as silence zones, noise polluters do not spare these places. Officials say bikers are the most notorious lot. "They prefer to maintain the speed and keep honking till they get their way," said an official.

"Honking seems to be a way of venting out frustration. Otherwise, why would a person blow horn when he knows that it is going to serve no purpose," said another official.

When Rucha Jain migrated from Dehradun to Mumbai last year, she was shocked at the level of noise pollution initially. "But, now I am getting used to it though I wish something would be done to reduce the levels."

Abdulali says citizens must not give up hope on this and continue to press authorities for better enforcement. She intends to meet traffic and RTO officials to revive the anti-honking campaign.

Honk-happy drivers brought to book

2011 21,982

2012 7,794

2013 10,869

2014 (Till March 31) 2,907?

Rs100 fine for unnecessary honking

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