Political parties will have to do without microphones for more than a month from Friday because of a busy school examination schedule that coincides with campaigning for a crucial electoral test.
Loudspeakers cannot be used in open areas and only at low volume in enclosed spaces from February 21 till the end of the exam season, according to a circular issued by Calcutta police on Thursday.
The decibel gag takes effect two weeks late, though. The ISC and madarsa exams started on February 10, which means the police violated a Calcutta High Court order that stipulates a microphone ban in open areas from three days before a board exam commences.
This year, the ban starts 72 hours ahead of Madhyamik, which over 10 lakh students are set to write, and 10 days before ICSE. Higher Secondary exams are scheduled to start on March 12.
The ban will be in force at least till April 17, when the last of the board exams, CBSE Class XII, ends.
Lalbazar has asked the officers-in-charge of all 65 police stations to ensure strict adherence. “All parties applying for permission for rallies and meetings are being informed that they can’t use microphones from this date. In case they want to hold a rally, it will have to be done without microphones,” a senior officer said.
The penalty for a violation is a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, said senior advocate Gitanath Ganguly, one of the special officers appointed by the high court for cases involving noise pollution.
Microphones have been barred in Calcutta during board exams for years. But with the 16th Lok Sabha elections likely to be announced in March and held in April-May, political parties are struggling to find a workaround to the challenge of campaigning without their favourite tool.
The run-up to the last general elections in 2009 had also clashed with the board examination schedule.
The police’s announcement on Thursday may be music to the ears of school examinees and their parents, but brace for an ear-shattering April as parties make up for lost time after the ban is lifted.
Until then, microphones can be used in enclosed spaces by sticking to a limit of 55 decibels.
In 1996, Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee of Calcutta High Court had observed that nobody could be made a “captive listener” to noise. He later ordered a ban on the use of microphones in the open three days before the start of a board exam.
In February 2013, the state pollution control board made a modification to the decade-and-a-half-old norm, reducing the territorial reach to “residential areas or where educational institutions are situated”. That meant a blanket ban on the use of microphones in the open since there are few areas in the city that aren’t residential.
Most party leaders intend to focus on door-to-door electioneering this year, a practice usually followed at the fag end of an ear-blasting political campaign. “I think this ban is only in Bengal. I have not noticed it anywhere else,” grumbled Gautam Deb of the CPM, a sought-after speaker at rallies.
The Congress said it was time for parties to come to a consensus on how to battle the mike ban during election time. “We would like to file a review petition with the high court,” party leader Manas Bhuniya said .
The ban has, of course, been challenged unsuccessfully at least seven times in the high court and also the Supreme Court.