September 26, 2021

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Construction of residential areas near highways : whether a breach of the fundamental right to sleep is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution

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This article is written by Soumali Roy who is pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.

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Every individual possesses certain human rights. Fundamental rights have intrinsic value and are of paramount importance. Part III of The Constitution of India confirms and protects the existence of these fundamental rights. Right to sleep has been acknowledged as a fundamental right under Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) in the landmark case of “Ramlila Maidan v Home Secretary, Union of India”.

In this case, the permission to hold a yoga camp, where many people had participated was withdrawn and section 144 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (the Code) was imposed. Police resorted to the use of tear gas and lathi charge to disperse off the crowd late at night when people were sleeping.

Suo moto cognizance of this case was taken by two-judge bench of Supreme Court, Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice Dr. B.S. Chauhan. Justice Dr. B.S. Chauhan held that forcibly evicting people who were sleeping peacefully was arbitrary and was an abuse of power to some extent. He held that sleep is a necessity as it “affects the quality of life of an individual while he is awake inducing mental sharpness, emotional balance, creativity and vitality.” Right to sleep is to be treated alike other fundamental rights, and in this case the basic human right of the crowd to sleep peacefully was violated which also is a constitutional freedom acknowledged under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Rapid urbanization of cities and towns have led to the rapid growth of traffic volume on roadways. Transportation has become an inalienable part of human lives. The Government is focusing on creating new highways, expressways and broadening them to ease traffic flow. There is no doubt that development of road infrastructure has a considerable amount of benefits but there are some questionable negativities, which bother the community immensely. 

One of the major sources of concern is noise pollution which is being caused because of road traffic. Past decades have witnessed people becoming more aware of the risks which noise pollution poses on human health, both physical as well as mental. People residing in close proximity to the highways are at greater risk. In the case of “Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v. K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Assn,” the SC held that people cannot create noise pollution in the name of religion. Similarly, noise pollution from traffic affects one’s health dangerously and the government should be willing to take steps to curb it.

Through this article, I would discuss how traffic noise breaches the fundamental right to sleep of the people living in close proximity to highways. I will take a practical example of the NH-32 which passes through Dhanbad city and of the six-lane expressway which is being built connecting Ranchi-Bokaro-Dhanbad to validate my research.

There is a worldwide concern regarding the impact of noise created by Highway traffic on human health as it is the most dominating source of noise, contributing around 70% to overall traffic noise as compared to Airways and Railways. The roads carry near about 65% of freight and 80% of passengers. The number of vehicles have been growing at an alarming pace over the last few years and this substantial growth including low turnover of old vehicles, inadequate road network, and urbanization have caused noise pollution problems in most cities in India. The traffic conditions in India are heterogeneous, the vehicles are of mixed types, the road conditions differ from place to place. There is frequent honking and the traffic sense is lacking in most places.All these cause noise pollution which impairs human sleep resulting in breach of Fundamental Right to Sleep.

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Studies conducted using the FHWA Noise Prediction model, showing how Highway Traffic noise far exceeds the permissible limits

There were several pieces of research conducted using the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) model, which is a computerized model used for predicting the impact of noise in proximity to highways. It uses advanced technology to model highway traffic noise accurately and provides for cost-effective noise barriers for highways. It is presently a favored analytical method for prediction of traffic noise, and it is used by most state and local agencies. The studies show that the noise in highways due to traffic exceeds far beyond the permissible limits prescribed under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.

A study was conducted by collecting data from seven stations in Gorakhpur city, India on NH-28 using the FHWA Model. Distances from the centerlines of the major roadways were taken as 10 metres. Standards of noise in residential areas as per Noise Pollution Rules 2000, are 55 dB

(A) Leq at day time and 45 dB (A) Leq at night time. The difference between maximum and acceptable noise levels at residential areas of Kunraghat, Mohaddipur, Paisley Ganj, Deoria Bypass, Rustampur and Nausarh, was found to be 18.96, 16.53, 14.72, 16.94, 17.93 & 15.91 respectively. The difference of maximum and acceptable noise levels was more than 10 dB (A) at most of the sampling stations.

Another study was conducted in the city of Nagpur, India using the FHWA model as per Indian circumstances. This study aimed to predict the traffic noise levels of uninterrupted traffic flow on prominent highways, as this city is linked with four metros viz. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai through road, rail and air. The study revealed that the noise level of traffic was reaching an alarming level in the city and the heavy traffic having greater velocities of vehicles on these highways was responsible for the noise exceeding the permissible standards.

Another study in Nagpur City, Maharashtra, India whose area comprised of three main roads namely Wardha road, South-Ambazari road and NEERI road classified as National Highway, major and minor roads respectively showed that “honking” is responsible for an additional noise of 4 to 5 dB(A) during morning and 2 to 4 dB(A) in evening hour over and above traffic noise for each category of roads which was confirmed using two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Another study conducted by Vijay et al. (2015) which analyzed that honking induces an extra 2 to 5 dB noise over and above traffic noise. Similar studies performed by Mishra et al (2010), Shukla et al. (2009) and Shalini et al. (2014) for different cities in India using the FHWA model for prediction of traffic noise on (bus rapid transit system) BRTS corridor of Panchsheel enclave, South Delhi; Lucknow and Varanasi respectively concluded higher noise levels than the prescribed limits.

In Dhanbad city, Jharkhand NH-32 passes through several residential areas and hospitals which are designated as silence zones under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. E.g. Fig 1.1 shows NH-32 passing through a residential cum commercial complex named “Krishna Plaza and Fig 1.2 shows NH-32 passing through a hospital named “Pragati Medical & Research Centre Pvt. Ltd.

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                             Fig 1.1                                                    Fig 1.2

Development of Six-Lane Controlled Access Ranchi-Bokaro-Dhanbad Expressway under PPP Framework

The Jharkhand state government is planning two mega road projects, a six-lane expressway between Ranchi and Dhanbad via Bokaro and another is Ranchi-Dhanbad-Jamshedpur industrial corridor, which will be titled as “Golden Triangle”.

Expressway is a facility with controlled access, it provides efficient and speedy movement of high volumes of traffic with safety, comfort and is economical as well. It ensures uninterrupted traffic movement of intercity traffic. The problem of high capacity traffic flow from Ranchi city to Dhanbad city can be curbed through the construction of this expressway. It will also ensure bypassing significant volume of traffic thereby eliminating mixing of local and through traffic.

During field visits for the Ranchi-Bokaro-Dhanbad Expressway, it was observed that the road alignment passes through total 29 village settlements in 4 districts and also through National Highways (NH-33, NH-23, NH-32) at five locations. It also crosses state highway (SH), Other District Road (ODR), Major District Road (MDR) and village roads at 32 locations and railway track at 2 locations. Some schools and other cultural structures, too, fall on the project.

The report mentions that the infrastructure will disturb the forestlands, vegetation, and sensitive receptors such as religious structures. The schools and inhabitants whose settlements fall on the alignment have to be relocated. Traffic safety has also been given a priority but there will be an alarming level of noise due to the heavy traffic which will ply on the lanes and the report doesn’t mention it.

Long-term exposure to traffic noise can result in cardiovascular diseases, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, annoyance, increased risks of mortality, mental health impairment, central obesity, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the general population. Sleep deprivation can increase the risks of diseases linked to heart and kidney. It can affect the body’s reaction to insulin (a hormone that controls the blood glucose level resulting in diabetes). It also messes up with certain other hormones which makes a person feel hungry or full. Sleep deficiency can result in human errors which leads to tragic accidents.

As per reviewed literature, noise is directly proportional to traffic volume, which means that traffic noise rises with an increase in traffic volume. Highway noise comes from several sources. In low-speed accelerating conditions noise mostly arises from engines, exhaust systems and power trains and in freeway speed noise arises from tyres.

Balashanmugam et al. (2013) reported after investigating at Chidambaram town that main reasons for high noise level were honking, flow of ill-maintained vehicles and poor conditions of road which leads to traffic congestion. In the case of Rabin Mukherjee And Ors. vs State of West Bengal And Ors, the Court directed the State Government to enforce restrictions against use of electric and other loud and shrill horn including air horn by operators of the vehicles as it was polluting Calcutta city. The attitude of the driver and his driving is also responsible for unnecessary honking. They become impatient which leads to sudden braking, accelerating, frequent overtaking, not abiding traffic rules, thereby aggravating honking. The drivers who drive heavy vehicles, should not be overstretched with their working hours. Long working hours lead to frustration resulting in the above problems. Their mental health should also be focused on. Proper awareness and counselling can be of great help to deal with the anxiety of the drivers.

While designing highways “noise” should be kept in mind and there should be means of evaluating noise levels in places adjacent to highways and then designed accordingly with proper planning. Enough distance should be maintained between the residential areas and the highways and an aim should be made towards reforestation because trees absorb noise and help in controlling air pollution. Marianna Jacyna et al (2017) suggest that noise pollution in the EU can be reduced by fundamental redesigning of vehicles, reducing traffic speed and intensity, proper traffic distribution, isolating noise sources and moving them away from recipients. The same can be applied in India as well. The current Noise Pollution Laws are not sufficient and more stringent laws should be put in place.

All the reviewed literature shows that traffic noise in Highways far exceeds the permissible limits prescribed under the Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000 leading to excessive noise pollution and thereby breaching the Fundamental Right to Sleep of the people residing near them. Highways are being developed and residential areas are being built nearby without keeping the problem of noise pollution in mind. Continuous exposure to excessive loud noise can have disastrous effects on one’s health. The FHWA model for traffic noise prediction has proven itself to be accurate in measuring Highway traffic noise and it should be preferred more. Infrastructure development is a necessity and so is the health of the citizens. Striking a balance between both is all that’s required.


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