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The Karnataka Government had issued a new ban on the use of loudspeakers restricting their use between 10.00p.m and 6.00a.m. It was also mandated to get prior permission from prescribed authorities to use any loudspeaker or public address system. Karnataka High Court rejects the contention that there was any violation of faith when loudspeakers are used for Azaan.

Key Takeaways

  • Azaan or Adhan is the Islamic call for public prayer in a mosque that is to be recited by a muezzin (an official who proclaims the start ofthe call of prayer) at prescribed times in a day.
  • Hanuman Chalisa Vs Azaan loudspeaker row intensified in May 2022.
  • Around 301 notices were served to curb noise pollution at restaurants, pubs, bars, industries, temples, mosques, and churches.
  • The loudspeakers can be used only within the prescribed time limits with prior permission from officials.
  • The right to practice religion is available to all and Azaan does not violate any sentiments or faith.

Supreme Court’s order 

There is a specific threshold of decibels that a loudspeaker can be used each day and night. The Supreme Court’s order states that a loudspeaker or a public address system or any sound-producing instrument shall strictly not be used between 10.00 p.m. and 6.00 a.m.and this rule shall not apply to closed areas for communication like auditoriums, conference rooms, community hall and banquet hall.

Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has laid down specific rules regarding the usage of loudspeakers, public address system, musical instrument, sound-producing instrument,andsound amplifiers. Places that have loudspeakers operating at higher levels than prescribed limits like more than 75 decibels in industrial areas, 65 decibels in commercial areas, 55 decibels in residential areas, and 45 decibels in residential areas shall cease to operate. A privately owned sound system functional in a private space, shall not exceed 5decibels. The loudspeaker in the public place is also required to follow the same and is to acquire prior permission in writing from the prescribed authority. The State government is vested with authority subject to terms, either to reduce noise pollution or permit the use of loudspeakers during the night between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight on account of any religious festival, but only upto a maximum period of 15days in a calendar year. It is at the discretion of the State government to decide the days and to inform the specified days well in advance.

In case any complaint arises over noise pollution causing a nuisance, disturbance, annoyance, discomfort, or injury the prescribed authority can take action for the same.

Controversy in Karnataka

Kamal Pant, Bengaluru Police Commissioner said that security has seized many microphones when orders were violated in the worship places.During the campaign against loudspeakers for Azaan by right-wing groups, the city police of Bangalore seized the speakers and microphones used in mosques stating that they have violated the rules laid for noise pollution. They called this to be an awareness drive and sent notices across 301 religious places which included temples, mosques, and churches in Bangalore to follow the rules as prescribed by Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).

Basavaraj Bommai, Karnataka Chief Minister stated that the government order along with the Supreme Court and High Court order’s on loudspeakers shall be enforced but no force will be used. He cleared the ambiguity and stated that it applies not only toAzaan but to all loudspeakers. The High Court has restricted the use of loudspeakers in worshipping places in 2021. Bommai opened up a day after K S Eshwarappa, Karnataka minister raised his concern over the use of loudspeakers in the state.

The debate of Azaan was ongoing in Maharashtra when Eshwarappa on 4 April 2022 reported complaints from students and patients regarding the disturbance of Azaan in the morning and evening. He added that it wasn’t anything against Muslim’s call for prayers through loudspeakers or Hindu’s Hanuman Chalisa, but is in the apprehension of the students, elderly, and patients.

Waqf board of Karnataka issued a circular on 17 March, 2021 which directed mosques and dargahs to avoid using the loudspeakers between 10.00 p.m and 6.00 a.m and to use them at low decibel levels, during Azaan and assured that the mosques in the statewill comply with the Supreme Court orders. In May, 2022 the mosques in the state decided to shift the morning prayer call for Azaan from 5.00 a.m to 6.00 a.m. It was alleged that some of the mosques did not comply with the order. The chairman of Karnataka Waqf Board, N K Mohammed Shafi Saadi said that the loudspeakers restriction between 6.00a.m. and 10.00 p.m will only affect the Azaan for ‘Fajr namaz’.

Ban on loudspeakers

Right-wing organisations led by Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sena were requesting a ban on loudspeakers in mosques and they will be playing ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Hanuman Chalisa’, and ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ or other devotional prayers during Azaan. Sri Ram Sena member, Pramod Muthalik has alleged that the tahsildar of Belgavi district and the pollution control board refrained to take any action against the request for preventing usage of Azaan at 5.00a.m. in the mosque. Muthalik said that Bhajan would be played every morning if the loudspeakers are not removed from mosques. As an indication of protest against Azaan, the Hindu activist Muthalik inaugurated the programme at a Hanuman temple in the Mysore district at 5.00 a.m chanting Hanuman Chalisa and Suprabhata in around 1000 temples from 5 May, 2022. Police security was increased to avoid any potential turmoil. He even challenged CM Basavraj Bommai and Home Minister Araga Jnanendra to show their “guts" like the Uttar Pradesh CM, Yogi Adityanath who took action for unauthorized use of speakers in religious places and curtailing the limits of duration. He blamed the government’s failure to take action against those violating court orders. 

Condemning his actions, Home Minister Jnanendra said that stringent actions shall be taken against anyone who causes noise pollution. Muthalik said, “Show your dadagiri against Muslim’s mics or loudspeakers and not against us. Keep in mind that you (BJP) are in power because of Hindu votes…we will do it peacefully and won’t create any disturbance" during the Sri Ram Sena’s protest against Muslim’s use of loudspeakers for Azaan disobeying the court orders. He said that they will also violate rules by having the Hindu prayers by 5.00a.m as long as the government does not take any action against Muslims or allows them to call Azaanat unauthorized time.

During the protests, another commotion sparked when the Opposition Leader of Karnataka Congress called everyone protesting against Azaan as terrorists in May, 2022. Siddalinga Swamiji of Sri Ram Sena responded to this anti-Hindu approach of Congress, saying that the protests were made to uphold the court orders and Hindus cannot be branded as terrorists for such a thing. While Muthalik said that, the Muslim community will face boycotts from Hindus if they fail to follow the court orders.

The Azaan row grew first in Maharashtra just before elections to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation or BMC. Leaders of the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena (MNS) played Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers from public places following the call-to-arms by Raj Thackery at a rally on Gudi Padwa in Mumbai. A few BJP leaders favored Thackeray’s call. The Azaan issue followed in Karnataka, shortly after the hijab case

During the Azaan controversy, the State government ordered all those using loudspeakers to get 15 days prior permission and upon failure to receive permission from designated authorities, it shall be removed. A circular issued on 10 May, 2022 cited the decibel levels from Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The circular was issued bythe Department of Forest, Ecology, and Environment when Chief Secretary P Ravikumar intimated the department after meeting with CM Bommai. The circular mandating prior permission for use of loudspeakers came into effect in the state ensuing in the row over Azaan versus Hanuman Chalisa being played in the early morning.

Bommai said that the rules and the orders issued by the Karnataka Government dated 13 August, 2022 will be strictly enforced. He added that the users of loudspeakers must get written permission from the prescribed authority within 15 days and those who fail to do so shall voluntarily remove the speakers or they will be removed by the designated authority.

Committees were to be constituted at different levels to decide upon the application of loudspeakers. It will be formed in all Police Commissionerate areas and will comprise the Assistant Commissioner of Police, a jurisdictional Executive Engineer of the City Corporation, and a representative from the pollution control board. While the other areas shall comprise of Deputy Superintendent of Police, a jurisdictional tahsildar, and a member from the pollution control board.

Chief Secretary, Ravikumar cited the orders of the Supreme Court dated 18 July, 2005 and 28 October, 2005 which directed all the prescribed authorities to implement the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. Rule 3 (1) provides for air quality standard in respect of noise and daytime was meant to include 6.00 a.m to 10.00 p.m. Rule 5(1) and 5(2) deals with permission from authority for the usage of loudspeakers and bar on the usage of loudspeakers at night except in closed premises respectively. Subsequently, the Department of Forest, Ecology, and Environment issued a circular defining closed premises as including a banquet hall, auditorium, conference room, and community hall.

Karnataka High Court on Azaan

Karnataka High Court on 22 August, 2022 refrained from directing the concerned authorities to take action against those using loudspeakers in mosques stating that “tolerance is the characteristic of Constitution of India and the Indian civilization.”

R Chandrasekhar, a resident of Bangalore filed a PIL against Azaan as “hurting sentiments of believers of other faith” when used 5 times a day loudly between 6.00 a.m and 10.00 p.m. Chief Justice Alok Aradhe headed the division bench and stated that everyone has a right to practice a religion of their choice but the contention thatAzaan violates the fundamental right to religion or other faiths cannot be accepted. The bench instructed the authorities to submit a report on noise pollution.

The court said “License 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 systems and sound-producing instruments and other musical instruments shall not be permitted to be used beyond the permissible decibel from 10.00 pm to 6.00 am.” The court ordered the respondents to follow the order and prevent any misuse of them. They were also ordered by another division bench of the High Court to submit a compliance report within 8 weeks on 17 June.

Conclusion

The state of Karnataka has been in constant commotion from the hijab controversy, Bajrang Dal activist’s murder, Hubballi communal violence, and now the Azaan row. The conflict over the use of loudspeakers by Muslims or Hindus is likely to cause chaos when permitted. So, all must follow the guidelines to not play the prayers loud at any place.

Karnataka CM Basavraj Bommai claimed all issues including the hijab and Azaan controversy were settled as per law. He stresses that "nobody can polarize Karnataka, the state's history speaks for itself.” talking about the controversies in an interview with World Economic Forum.


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