Maharashtra to restrict loudspeaker use at religious sites
Part of: GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: The state government will now make it mandatory for religious sites to seek permission for using loudspeakers.
Loudspeakers and existing Rules
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, loudspeakers cannot be used in public places anywhere in the country unless permission has been taken from the local administration. However, permission regarding the same is taken in only 9 percent of the cases in India, and other times people use loudspeakers in public places without permission.
- Under CPCB there should not be more than 75 Decibels during daytime and 70 Decibel during the night in an industrial area.
- In residential areas, there should be 55 Decibels during the day and 45 Decibels during the night.
- Whereas if an area is kept in the Silence Zone, then there cannot be more than 50 Decibels of noise during the day.
In August 2016, the Bombay High Court ruled that the use of loudspeaker was not a fundamental right.
- The Bombay High Court observed that no religion or sect could claim that the right to use a loudspeaker or a public address system was a fundamental right conferred by Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
- It further ordered that if a place of religion fell in a Silence Zone, the rules of not allowing use of loudspeakers and other forms of sound producing systems in such a zone should be adhered to by such religious places.
Does it come under ‘essential religious practices’?
Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. However, this right isn’t absolute and is subject to public order, morality, health, and other fundamental rights.
- While Article 25 itself does not read any other condition into the protection of this right, courts, over the years, have ruled that the right would protect only “essential religious practices” and not all religious practices. So, this test decides which religious practices are protected under the Constitution.
- Courts have adopted varied approaches to the test over the years. In some cases, they relied on religious texts to determine essentiality, in others on the empirical behaviour of followers, and in a few, on whether the practice in question existed at the time the religion originated.
- Court judgments on this test usually trace its origins to the debates of the Constituent Assembly, and attribute it to a speech given by Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
- On 2 December 1948, Dr Ambedkar acknowledged that religious conceptions in India “cover every aspect of life, from birth to death”. However, he added, “There is nothing extraordinary in saying that we ought to strive hereafter to limit the definition of religion in such a manner that we shall not extend it beyond beliefs and such rituals as may be connected with ceremonials which are essentially religious.”
- He then asserted that “it is not necessary that the sort of laws, for instance, laws relating to tenancy or laws relating to succession, should be governed by religion.” Ambedkar’s use of the term “essentially religious” was cited by courts to introduce the essential religious practice test.
Current Status on the test: A nine-judge bench is set to re-evaluate the “essential religious practice test”, among other issues related to Constitutional morality, and the interplay between freedom of religion under the Constitution and other fundamental rights.