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Health Ministry to take up anti-noise pollution initiatives Expert group of ENT specialists to be formed soon to recommend measures

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, has stressed the need for enforcing statutory standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and directives issues by the Supreme Court to prevent noise pollution. Globally, noise has emerged as the single biggest cause of disability in the workplace.

“Successive governments have skirted the real issue by addressing the noise menace as just another nuisance. Our delaying of a specific legislation is part of a larger mistake of not providing for adequate environmental safeguards before embarking on rapid industrialisation,” the Minister said while inaugurating the 13th annual conference of the Association of Otolaryngologists of India (AOI), Kerala branch, in Perinthalmana in north Kerala today. Health Minister, Kerala, Shri V. S. Sivakumar was also present during the function. More than 700 specialists attended the event.

Describing noise pollution as a “modern plague”, Dr Harsh Vardhan lauded Kerala chapter of AOI for being at the forefront of the National Initiative for Safe Sound (NISS).

“It is a welcome development to see ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialists like myself ending the “silence” over noise pollution. The high level of awareness among people in the state on the issue is due in the most part to the awareness campaigns undertaken over several years by AOI,” he remarked.

Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “As professionals you encounter daily the effects of noise pollution on patients. I remember in my early years in ENT practice, it was relatively uncommon to have a patient with hearing adverse impact, but in recent years even youngsters have started coming with impairment caused by noise hazard.”

Dr Harsh Vardhan announced that he is in the process of constituting a high-level expert group to recommend standards of acceptability of environmental sound levels. The Ministry would make them the basis of a new legislation, he stated. The only instrument with law enforcers at present, the Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000, developed by CPCB is supposed to be enforced by local police units all over India. But there is little public awareness about them, the Health Minister noted.

As Delhi’s Health Minister in the early 1990s he had formed the first expert panel on noise pollution which was headed by Dr Santosh Kackar, an ENT specialist who was then professor and head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology of All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Another initiative was the setting up of the country’s first –and till date only—Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at New Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medical College. A concept to set up one such department in each new upcoming AIIMS of the country is now being considered for implementation, the Health Minister said.

Dr Harsh Vardhan remarked that the ill effects of chronic exposure to noise are not visible until at an advanced stage. WHO has come out with the finding that noise pollution can cause headaches, heart ailments, stress related disorders, hypertension and psychological disorders, he informed. Hearing loss is the primary health effect, but the systemic and psychological effects are long-term and can lead to permanent scars.

The BJP government of Delhi of the early 1990s had started implementing the Dr Kackar Panel’s recommendation for installing noise abatement equipment on bridges and flyovers. But under subsequent governments this was not pursued with seriousness, the Health Minister stated. The recommendations on maximum decibel levels in exhaust fans, making the use of ear muffs compulsory for industrial workers and introducing free check-ups on a Monday of every month also fell by the wayside, he added.

“I appreciate the good work done by the Kerala ENT community. At a time when we are embarking on heavy urbanisation and industrialisation we should not ignore regulating unwanted noise. It is good to see doctors take up the important role of environmentalists,” he added.

Dr John Panicker, state president of the Kerala ENT Doctors’ Association, said on the occasion that NISS would soon be taken up by other states’ ENT specialists. He urged the government to help the ENT academia of the country by issuing an order allowing the temporal bone (located at the sides and base of the skull) in cadavers to be harvested and preserved for training purposes. The Kerala government has passed such an order.