In Re Noise Pollution and Judicial Restraint

The Daily Guardian

And so without any reference to any text or calling for any evidence, in just a handful of lines, a Bench of the Supreme Court comprising the then Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti and Justice Ashok Bhan concluded in 2005 in the landmark judgement of In Re Noise Pollution that there was no nexus between the bursting of firecrackers and Diwali/Deepawali. The judgement is mostly known for prescribing noise-level related ceiling for firecrackers, apart from proscribing the bursting of firecrackers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. What isn’t known as much is the fact that the very same judgement also issued directions with respect to the use of loudspeakers. It is an indication of the times we live in that noise created by firecrackers is a constant source of discussion, while loudspeakers are discussed in palpably hushed tones; I guess noise too has an identity in this country which decides the treatment it gets even in private conversations. One could paraphrase a popular adage about the law and say “show me the source of the noise and I’ll show you the rule”.

Coming back to firecrackers, while I do understand and agree with the need for their regulation from the standpoint of safety and pollution, I certainly believe that at the very least the sense of restraint and the respect for facts and evidence that Courts are expected to observe in secular (meaning non-religious) matters, they must equally extend to religious matters given that their words carry weight. This applies all the more since Indian Courts are ostensibly secular bodies and are, therefore, as institutions not trained in matters of theology or religion. As individuals, certain members of the system may be trained or may have an interest in or aptitude for such subjects, but from an institutional perspective, Courts are secular/non-religious organs. Such being the case, to hold forth with certitude on matters of ritual or celebration or religion or to draw from limited personal experience or knowledge goes against the nature of the forum and the measured role one is expected to perform when donning the institutional hat.

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