Loudspeakers and the Law: India

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The legal position

As in 2022 April

April 23, 2022: The Times of India

The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 are clear. But it is their execution where it all gets confusing. If use of loudspeakers by mosques is a problem, are temples exempt? If Ganesh visarjan processions are too noisy, what about garba nights? 
Do the rules apply only to use of loudspeakers? Would loud beating of drums past the 10 pm deadline be ok? In India, where religion and culture are loud and boisterous public displays, how does one take into account an individual’s right to quiet, peace and tranquility? 
There are no easy answers.

Here are a series of orders from the Supreme Court and multiple high courts that capture all the noise around the issue of loudspeakers: 
Supreme Court

July 2005: Judgment sets time, decibel limits
The reason why the issue reached the Supreme Court was tragic. A 13-year-old girl was raped and her cries for help went unheard due to blaring noise of music over loudspeaker in the neighbourhood. The petitioner complained of noise created by the use of the loudspeakers being used in religious performances in busy commercial localities 
The SC directed
1. The noise level at the boundary of the public place, where loudspeaker or public address system or any other noise source is being used shall not exceed 10 decibels above the ambient noise standards for the area or 75 decibels whichever is lower. 

2. No one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10.00 pm and 6 am) except in public emergencies. 
3. The peripheral noise level of privately-owned sound systems shall not exceed by more than 5 decibels than the ambient air-quality standard specified for the area in which it is used, at the boundary of the private place. 
State’s rights over relaxation of rules upheld, October 2005
The SC upheld the validity of the amendment to the Noise Pollution Rules which allowed state governments to relax the 10 pm deadline for 15 days every year, provided the days were declared in advance. During these 15 days, the sound system could be allowed to go on till midnight, instead of the usual 10 pm deadline, in view of the “diversity of cultures and religions in India,” the bench said. 
The court made it clear that the scope of these exemptions could not be widened either by increasing the number of days or by increasing the duration beyond two hours. 
1. Maharashtra
July 2014: Remove “all unauthorised” loudspeakers
A division bench of the Bombay high court directed that loudspeakers from the mosques in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, which had not taken permission for the same, must be removed. The court was hearing a PIL alleging that a reply under the Right to Information Act showed that of the 49 mosques in Navi Mumbai, 45 had not obtained permission for loudspeakers. 
The bench, however, also said that unauthorised loudspeakers must be confiscated irrespective of whether they were installed for “Ganeshotsav, Navratri or in mosques... irrespective of religion, caste or community”. 
October 2016: Festive season directives for implementation of noise rules
Just before the festive season, the HC issued various directives for effective implementation of the rules and said that all places of worship must scrupulously follow the rules and no place was entitled to use loudspeakers or public address systems without obtaining permission under the relevant rule. 
The court also directed that a mechanism needed to be put in place to hear complaints regarding noise pollution and the authorities under the the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules were duty-bound to entertain complaints and take prompt action.

December 2016: Use of speakers at Shiva ji Park barred
A division bench of Bombay high court denied relief in a petition seeking permission to use loudspeakers at Shiva ji Park for Christmas and New Year eve parties. This was based on an order by another bench of the court in 2010, asking the concerned authorities to declare the area a silence zone because of the presence of educational institutions and hospitals around the ground.

September 2017: Back to square one: Noise rules amended
The Noise Pollution Rules were amended in August 2017, effectively eliminating 1,573 notified 'silence zones' in Mumbai ahead of the festive season starting with Ganeshotsav. The notification issued by the central government made the state governments responsible for specifically notifying silence zones in their jurisdiction. 
The amendment also nullified a 2016 verdict of the Bombay HC restricting the use of loudspeakers within 100 metres of hospitals, educational institutions, courts and religious places even outside the declared silence zones. 
The plea challenging the amendment alleged that it violated constitutional rights and was an “appeasement move” ahead of Ganpati and Dahi Handi celebrations when loudspeakers are used liberally. 
“This is a case where there will be irreparable injury to the citizens especially in the light of the law laid down by the apex court that a right to live in a noise pollution free atmosphere is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the Bombay HC had observed. 
The SC eventually granted a stay on HC order. 

2. Uttar Pradesh
 May 15, 2020: HC allows azaan in mosques without loudspeaker
The Allahabad high court allowed the recitation of azan by a single individual in Uttar Pradesh mosques without the use of any loudspeaker during the Covid lockdown. A bench of justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Ajit Kumar granted the relief to Muslims, saying “azan may be an essential and integral part of Islam” but its “recitation through loudspeakers or other sound-amplifying devices cannot be said to be an integral part of the religion”. 
February 20, 2022: HC junks contempt against loudspeakers in mosques, temples
The Allahabad high court dismissed a contempt petition regarding the usage of loudspeakers in temples and mosques, observing that the time of filing the petition indicates that it is a sponsored litigation so as to affect communal harmony in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the assembly election. 
In the contempt petition, the petitioner had requested the court to punish Rampur’s district magistrate and superintendent of police for willfully disobeying the earlier order passed by the court in a PIL on April 15, 2015, by which the court had directed the district administration to ensure that there is no noise pollution by use of loudspeaker or any other device causing noise pollution beyond the prescribed standard and time. 

3. Tamil Nadu
August 16, 2017: Madras HC wants apex court’s norms followed
The Madras high court observed that freedom of religion is a fundamental right that cannot be interfered with, but stressed that the Supreme Court guidelines on sound systems used by mosques for giving prayer calls should be followed. The observations were made by a bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar while hearing a PIL. The PIL alleged that officials of Pollachi taluk in Coimbatore district had seized loudspeakers used for azan without verifying whether the sound levels were within the permissible limits. 
The HC bench said that offering prayers was the fundamental right and it cannot be interfered with. However, at the same time, it said, the petitioners had to follow the Supreme Court guidelines in operating the sound systems. 

4. Karnataka
January 11, 2021: Karnataka HC directs state to act on illegal use of loudspeakers
The Karnataka high court asked the state government to direct the police and the Pollution Control Board to take action as per the Supreme Court directions and noise pollution rules against illegal use of loudspeakers at religious places. A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum passed the order after hearing a PIL seeking to restrict the use of loudspeakers by political parties and at religious places. 
The petitioner’s lawyer argued that he had submitted a representation to top officials on October 22, 2020, requesting that the apex court’s order be implemented. However, the authorities have not taken any steps. The plea claimed that the use of loudspeakers at religious places was creating health issues. 
November 16, 2021: Under which law are loudspeakers allowed in mosques?
The Karnataka high court asked the state government to explain the provisions of the law under which loudspeakers and public address systems have been allowed in mosques and what action is being taken to restrict their use. The division bench, headed by Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, was hearing a petition regarding sound pollution caused by mosques. 
The petitioner’s counsel had submitted that no legal action has been initiated by the authorities. “Mosques are informing the court that they are using mics as per the directions of the Wakf Board. However, it doesn’t have any powers to give permission. The state must make it clear under what legal provision the Wakf Board is issuing circulars,” the HC bench observed.

5. Gujarat 
April 18, 2022: Gujarat HC asks govt to clear its stand
The Gujarat high court asked the state government to clear its stand on the use of loudspeakers for azaan in mosques. The bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri was dealing with a PIL seeking a direction to the state government to take appropriate measures for banning use of loudspeakers. 
The HC had issued a notice to the government in February and had sought its reply. However, on April 18, the court was informed that the state hasn’t filed its reply yet. The HC has asked the state to file its reply by June 8. 

6. Uttarakhand
June 2018: Noise levels must not exceed 5 decibels
A division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh, while hearing a public interest litigation seeking action against a toy factory in Haridwar district, told the government that the use of loudspeakers should be allowed only after the user gives an undertaking that the noise level will not exceed 5 decibels, even during day time. 
The court observed that loudspeakers kept on blaring even beyond midnight and that temples, mosques and gurdwaras cannot be permitted to use loudspeakers without the written permission from the concerned authorities. 

July 2020: ‘5 decibels’ order modified
The June 2018 order setting the sound limit to 5 decibels was modified by the court stating it as an “accidental error.” A division bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe amended the 2018 order, using powers under section 152 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), which allows the court to correct a clerical mistake or error. 

7. Punjab and Haryana
July 2019: No loudspeaker to be used
The Punjab and Haryana high court directed Punjab, Haryana and union territory of Chandigarh to ensure that no loudspeaker or public address system was used by any person, including religious bodies, in temples, mosques and gurdwaras without written permission of the authorities. 
The court directed the restriction to be applicable even during the day time and on an undertaking that the noise level would not exceed more than 10


Allahabad HC bans sound-amplifying devices 10pm-6am

Rajesh Kumar Pandey, No one can be forced to hear something: HC, May 16, 2020: The Times of India

‘Loudspeaker Not Necessary For Azaan Recitation’


The Allahabad high court has held that “azaan” (the call to ritual prayer in Islam) can be recited from the minarets of mosques by human voice only and without the use of any amplifying device or loudspeaker.

The HC added such recitation by human voice cannot be hindered under the pretext that it violates the guidelines issued by the state government to contain Covid-19.

Giving the verdict, the HC held “azaan” may be an essential part of Islam but its recitation through a loudspeaker cannot be said to be an integral part of the religion and warranting protection of fundamental right enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution, which otherwise is subject to public order, morality, health, and other constitutional provisions.

Cannot make others captive listeners: HC

Under no circumstances can soundamplifying devices be permitted to be used between 10pm and 6am by the district administration. “It cannot be said that a citizen should be coerced to hear anything which he does not like or which he does not require since it amounts to taking away the fundamental right of the other person,” the court observed. Disposing of a PIL filed by Ghazipur BSP MP Afzal Ansari and others, a division bench comprising Justice Shashi Kant Gupta and Justice Ajit Kumar observed, “Traditionally, and according to religious order, ‘azaan’ has be to recited by the imam, or the person in charge of mosques, through their own voice.” “No one has got the right to make other persons captive listeners,” they observed.

Karnataka HC refuses to ban loudspeakers for azaan/ 2022

August 23, 2022: The Times of India

Bengaluru: The Karnataka high court refrained from directing the authorities to stop mosques for the azaan/adhan (call to saying that “tolerance is the characteristic of the Constitution of India as well as Indian civilisation”.

A Bengaluru resident had filed a PIL claiming that the contents of azaan “hurt sentiments of believers of other faiths”. A division bench headed by acting chief justice Alok Aradhe said, “Undoubtedly, the petitioner as well as believers of other faiths have the right to practise their religion. . . However, the contention that the contents of azaan violate the fundamental right (to religion) guaranteed to the petitioner as well persons of other faiths cannot be accepted. ”

The bench directed the authorities to submit a report regarding noise pollution. “Licence for use of loudspeakers, public-address systems and sound-producing instruments can be issued under rule 5(3) of Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, read with Section 37 of the Karnataka Police Act, 1963. The respondents are, therefore, directed to ensure that loudspeakers and public-address system and sound-producing instruments and other musical instruments shall not be permitted to be used beyond the permissible decibel from 10pm to 6am,” it said.

Recalling that a division bench on June 17 had ordered a drive to prevent misuse of loudspeakers and PA systems, the court said the respondents shall follow those directions and file a compliance report within eight weeks.

Court judgements


Alok Ranjan, April 7, 2022: India Today

Different public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed in the high courts recently seeking a ban on the use of loudspeakers in mosques. The courts have dealt with the issue in the past, here’s a look at what they said earlier.

By Alok Ranjan: After the anti-halal meat campaign in Karnataka, the outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Sriram Sena have now called for a ban on the use of loudspeakers in mosques. They have demanded that azaan (Islamic prayers) must not be offered using loudspeakers atop mosques. They have threatened to play bhajans (devotional songs) on loudspeakers near mosques if their objection is not addressed.

Recently, on April 2, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray urged the Maharashtra government to remove loudspeakers from mosques.

Addressing his supporters at a rally in Mumbai's Shiva ji Park, Raj Thackeray said, “Why are loudspeakers in mosques played at such high volume? If this is not stopped, there will be speakers outside mosques playing Hanuman Chalisa [devotional song praising Lord Hanuman] at a higher volume.”

“I am not against prayer, or any particular religion. I do take pride in my own religion," he said.

In 2017, Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam had stirred up a row on social media when he put out a Twitter post calling morning azaan “forced religiousness”. He said, “God bless everyone. I'm not a Muslim and I have to be woken up by the Azaan in the morning. When will this forced religiousness end in India?”

As he received flak for his tweet and opinion remained divided, he shaved off all his hair after a cleric issued a fatwa, offering Rs 10 lakh to anyone who shaved the singer’s head.

The Supreme Court had in July 2005 banned the use of loudspeakers and music systems between 10 pm to 6 am (except in the cases of public emergencies) at public places citing serious effects of noise pollution on health of the people living in such areas.

Different public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed in the high courts (Gujarat and Jharkhand for example) recently seeking ban on the use of loudspeakers in mosques. The courts have dealt with the issue in the past, here’s a look at what they said earlier:


On October 28, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that loudspeakers could be permitted to be used till midnight on festive occasions for 15 days a year. A bench comprising then Chief Justice RC Lahoti and Justice Ashok Bhan upheld the constitutional validity of a statutory rule allowing states to relax sound pollution norms including use of loudspeakers till midnight on festive and religious occasions.

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