21 November 2022


Blast from the Past

High Court of Kerala

05.03.1974

D. Anantha Prabhu v. The District Collector, Ernakulam and Anr.

MANU/KE/0032/1975

Their right to be loud and your duty to hear

Public authorities have a torrid time explaining why loudspeakers are allowed to be used or why sometimes they are not. Permit a screeching amplifier and the public complains of it becoming a public nuisance, an infringement of its fundamental ‘right to think’; don’t allow the roaring monsters and it is connoted as a stifling of ones freedom of speech and expression; a return to the times of yore (when they had loudspeakers, apparently).

Perhaps when allowing or -dis the setting up of loudspeakers for a ‘public event’ authorities will do well to remind themselves of the virtues of a coin toss - the courts certainly seem to follow it as a mantra. Consistent has not been the courts’ position on allowing loudspeakers at a public event. Yet, a change in perception of noise as more than just a public nuisance has led to a slow shift towards muffling some loudspeaker claims. That said, the role of The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 in bringing a sea change in the perception of publicly broadcast certainly deserves mention.

But before the ‘watershed’ was the decision of the Kerala High Court in a petition against an encompassing ban on the use of loudspeakers at a certain ground in Ernakulam. Public authorities, it was alleged, had impinged on the Petitioner's right to express freely - under Article 19 of the Constitution no less - by prohibiting, in the absence of any guidelines, the use of means to amplify sound.

The court having heard submissions from the Petitioner and the public authority came away in favour of the former. It opined, “[the ban] amounts to infringement of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression in that the said condition stands across the person who speaks or expresses and the persons to whom he speaks or expresses effectively imposing restraints on communication between them which is the essence of the freedom of speech and expression and without which that freedom is futile and meaningless.” Of little consequence proved the non-discriminatory nature of the ban and inconvenience to residents concreted along the fringes of the public ground.

The nuisance arising out of loudspeaker use was termed to not be a threat to public order and the order banning use of loudspeakers was quashed. Usefully, more recent judgments of courts have focused on alleviating clamorous fervour. Amplified music is required to be restricted to the premises it entertains; and less and less inclined are courts to allow loudspeakers at any time of day - why add to the ambient din any more than you have to, they say.

Relevant

Satwant Singh v. A P.O., New Delhi MANU/SC/0040/1967
Railway Board, New Delhi v. N. Singh MANU/SC/0507/1969
Article 19 Constitution Act