Mumbai, April 6 (IANS) Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan made a special appearance at the Mehboob Studios here to express his support for a unique Mumbai Police initiative - observing Monday as 'No Honking Day'.
The actor affixed on his car Saturday a sparkling white sticker that said 'No Honking Today' as representatives of the police department and scores of NGOs cheered on.
The campaign, first of its kind in India, aims at creating awareness of the social and medical ill effects of honking and noise pollution.
Mumbai Police and other agencies have so far distributed over 100,000 such stickers in English, Hindi and Marathi to vehicles owners, including two-wheelers, four wheelers, taxis and autos.
Mumbai has a whopping 1.5 million vehicles, including 110,000 auto-rickshaws and 55,000 taxis, Shahaji Solunke, deputy commissioner of police (Traffic), told IANS.
Mumbai's population is approximately 15 million, which means that there is one vehicle for every 10 people.
'As it is, Mumbai suffers from high noise pollution level. Series of tests conducted by us have shown that it is between 65 decibels (lowest) and 95 (highest), both in residential and industrial areas. The limits are 55 for residential and 85 for industrial areas,' said Sumaira Abdulali, head of Awaz Foundation, which is part of the 'No Honking' initiative.
Harish Baijal, another traffic police officer, said the inspiration for the campaign came when he was posted to Kosovo for a year.
'Drivers do not honk there at all. I was amazed and wondered why we could not attempt something like this in Mumbai,' he said.
'Honking is a mindset ... and both pedestrians and drivers need to be disciplined. People seem to enjoy honking, whether driving or waiting at the 470-odd traffic signals in Mumbai,' Baijal pointed out.
In India, honking is actually encouraged! Behind many vehicles, especially trucks, 'Horn OK Please' is written in bold letters.
Baijal was relieved that many enlightened Mumbaikars shared his views. Shortly after the initiative was announced, nearly 50 voluntary organisations, citizens groups, corporate houses, college and school students came forward to support the campaign.
'Apart from Awaz Foundation, they include the HDFC Bank, Radio Mirchi, Red FM, STAR News, students of Wilson College and Kirti College, many schools and 800 traffic police personnel of Mumbai, and nearly 2000 volunteers of different NGOs and citizens groups,' Sumaira said.
Sumaira, Solunke and Baijal are unanimous that 'awareness' on the issue is a must.
'We must prepare a noise map of Mumbai and the government must implement noise pollution control measures,' Sumaira said.
At present, honkers get away with measly fines, but Sumaira suggests invoking the Environment Protection Act, which makes noise pollution a non-bailable offence and stipulates a jail term of five years and a hefty fine of Rs.100,000.
'The nation is already paying heavily for the high noise pollution levels that we live with. All stress related disorders, heart problems or hearing defects are directly connected to noise pollution,' Sumaira said.
She emphasised that the police would be handicapped in their quest to make Mumbai noise-free without support from concerned governmental agencies.
Baijal said the traffic police have already begun cracking down on offenders.
'Last weekend, within just three hours, the police registered 25 cases of noise pollution. Monday, all those who honk needlessly shall be penalized,' he said.
FM radio stations have gone all-out to promote the campaign. Bachchan apart, the organisers have urged other celebrities to come forward and express support for the drive.
Heavy honking is witnessed on Mondays, the first working day of the week as people rush to offices after a relaxed weekend. Even designated 'no honking zones' like hospitals and educational institutions are not spared by speeding drivers.
Rakesh Upadhyay, director of pharma firm Vedanta Health Care, said, 'The drive must be supported by all right thinking citizens as it is for the general good of the city's health'.
Sumaira assured the people the campaign would not end Monday. 'It's the beginning,' she said, adding that it would become a regular feature until noise pollution was drastically reduced.