When Monir Hossain, a bus driver was signaled to stop his vehicle on a busy road in Dhanmondi, he reluctantly complied. He was ready to show his bluebook, but the traffic police asked him to honk his horn, instead. When he did, the horn made a regular inconspicuous noise. Not satisfied, the traffic police checked inside the bus and spotted a pair of hydraulic horns, which the driver avoided blewing.
After a rigorous court ban, this is what the drivers are doing, explained Sergeant Moshiur Rahman, the traffic police. They are keeping two separate horns – a regular one for public display, and a secret hydraulic one beneath.
By why do they have to flout the law?
Monir Hossain, the driver said, "When we drive buses in highways, we cannot hear regular horns. So, hydraulic horns are effective. But, we don't honk them while in Dhaka City."
He was fined taka 100 for violating the motor vehicle law.
On a Saturday noon in only one-hour the police randomly stopped 8 buses on the Mirpur Road running through Kalabagan area. They found hydraulic horns in three buses.
Mohammad Shamim, one of the drivers, said that he had been driving the bus for only two months and didn't have any idea of a secret hydraulic horn kept in the bus.
Hydraulic horn is a special kind of whistle that uses hydraulic pressure instead of electric charge and these horns are notorious for making deafening noise.
Farid Ahmed, director, Department of Environment, explained that on an average a hydraulic horn can produce a 130 dB (decibel) whistle, far greater than permissible level stipulated in Bangladesh Sound Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006, which is 75 dB on busy roads and industrial areas.
"The main reason behind the deafening sound is that it creates high frequency and high amplitude noise," said Kamrul Islam, professor of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, BUET.
Court ban and police drives
A high court bench on August 23, 2017 had banned the use of hydraulic horns in Dhaka city responding to a writ petition by human rights organization Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. Later, on November 5, 2017, the same bench banned it across the country.
On October 8 the same year, transport owners and drivers of Dhaka city were given 15 days to surrender the hydraulic horns used in their vehicles to their respective police stations.
According to the statistics of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, after the ban a total of 26,936 cases were filed against drivers for using hydraulic horns.
On an average, 2,244 cases were filed every month in 2018 which rose to 3,090 in 2019.
Ashrafuzzaman, the joint commissioner of traffic (South) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said that they are filing cases for using hydraulic horns every day.
He said, "The drive alone can't be fruitful. We need to create awareness about its harmful effects among the drivers."
Moshiur Rahman, the traffic sergeant who was conducting the drive on Saturday said, "We seize the hydraulic horns and then deposit them to the police. Drivers are using hydraulic horns secretly," said.
Penalties are very inadequate in the law, said Arshad Alam, the president of Search Skating Club, which is campaigning against the use of such horns for six years. They demand the amount of fine to be increased to Tk 1000 and sentences of 15 days in prison for violation.
"In our estimation, nearly 60 per cent of long route buses still use hydraulic horns. The police drives are not working because of the low penalties." Arshad Alam said.
Section 139 of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 says that the penalty for installing or using banned horns or noise-polluting horns in vehicles is Tk 100.
Ubiquitous in the market
Bus and truck owners have easy access to hydraulic horns at different markets in Dhaka, Chottogram, Bogra and Jessore. In Dhaka, the largest market for hydraulic horn is the Bhuyan Market in the Bangla Bazar. The hydraulic horns are locally dubbed as 'jumbo horns'.
Mukul Hossain, proprietor of M/S Talha Motors, told The Business Standard they are selling twin jumbo horn at a price of Tk 1140. A three-part device costs Tk 2000. These are being imported from India through different land ports.
One of the sellers seeking anonymity said that every day at least 200 hydraulic horns are sold in the market.
"We know there is a ban on imports, but some importers are managing it anyway, through illegal means," said one of the sellers seeking anonymity.
Jamal Hossain, one of the importers of motor parts in the Bangla Bazar claimed that he stopped importing hydraulic horns after the court ban.
"One particular importer from Chattrogram is importing all the hydraulic horns in the country imported under false declarations," claimed Jamal Hossain.
Noise taking a toll
According to a Department of Environment survey conducted in eight divisions of the country in 2014, the Farmgate Intersection in Dhaka was the area of highest noise pollution (135.6 dB). The least polluted area was Uttara-14 section where the noise level was 100.8 dB, still far higher than the permissible level.
The survey illustrated that all the places had noises two or three times higher than the Bangladesh Sound Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that noise pollution is responsible for a range of health effects, including increased risk of ischemic heart disease as well as sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment among children, annoyance, stress-related mental health risks.
Professor Manash Ranjan Chakraborty, Head of the Department of Audiology, National Institute of ENT and Hospital, conducted a survey on the effects of noise pollution in the city in 2005.
"The situation of noise pollution in Dhaka city is quite alarming. Ten percent of all the hearing disabilities is the result of noise pollution," said Chakraborty.
AKM Rafique Ahammed, Director General of the Department of Environment, told The Business Standard that right now they are focusing on illegal polythene bags in the city. However they are trying to create awareness among students who would motivate the vehicle drivers about the bad effects of hydraulic horns.
He said that the onus of taking measures against the use of such horns is on traffic police, because they implement The Motors Vehicles Ordinance.
"We are now planning to launch a crash program against hydraulic horns," said Ahammed.