Meet Sumaira Abdulali, fighting against Noise pollution & Sand Drudging Mafias since a decade
Sumaira Abdulali is the key person of the movement against noise pollution in Mumbai. She was born and brought up in a family of environmentalists, so these concerns come naturally to her. Sumaira has extensively worked on two issues since a decade, that affect the environment; noise and sand mining. Sumaira emphasizes on the need for silent zones & the implementation of secure noise limits during the festivals through her NGO, Awaaz Foundation. The foundation also deals with the major issue of Sand Drudging, which affects the bio system across Mumbai’s coastline.
In 2002, Sumaira accompanied her uncle to Alibag, where she came across a number of encroachments on the coast. This was the beginning of her fight against the issue. Despite several complaints, the authorities took no action. Sumaira caught the encroachers red handed & confirmed about them. She returned to Mumbai and took the responsibility of saving the environment. “I started working against noise pollution at a time when no one was talking about its harmful effects. People did not realize the kind of impact that it can have on their health and mental peace. I started out alone with a noise meter in my hand and visited all possible places, traffic spots, celebration pandals, to measure noise. I was shocked to find that permissible limits of 55 decibels was a joke,” she says.
In 2006, her passion of a silent environment gradually evolved into the formation of her organization, Awaaz foundation. It was not really structured till then & was just a volunteer based support system. Sumaira visited various places & different communities & spoke to people about the health issues associated with excessive noise. “People were already affected by it and wanted to change it, but were scared to do so because big players were involved. In this country, culture and religion are two major factors that are conveniently used by politicians to secure their vote banks.” She says. The police then said to her that there will be riotous opposition if they go against the noise pollution at religious festivals & places of worship. Some reminded her that there are more urgent problems like poverty & malnutrition, while others said that the increasing noise in the city was a sign of development & growth. Sumaira was also accused of destroying Mumbai’s cultural life. She then realized that the scenario won’t change unless the government won’t impose strict laws on noise levels. But as she did not have enough legal knowledge to take it forward, she took help of her fellow advocate Ishwar Nankani, Awaaz foundation filed a PIL in the Mumbai high court in 2007 seeking implementation of strict rules on Noie Pollution. “We wanted the creation of silence zones near educational institutions, courts, hospital & religious places,” she says.
Finally, in 2009, the High Court accepted the need for implementation of strict noise laws and ordered the state government to implement noise pollution regulation rules notified by the Central Pollution Control Board. The state government asked the municipal bodies to create silence zones. The Foundation systematically collected noise pollution data for the first time in India.
After that, Sumaira continued crusade against the sand mafia, one of the most powerful lobbies operating along the city’s coast. “Sand drudging is an extremely common activity in various places. This is not only affecting the biodiversity as it robs the ecosystem of its natural habitat, but it also becomes dangerous for hundreds of kids who are made to work in this, often without any permissions.” Sumaira’s work made such an impact that the sand mafia saw her as a threat to their illegal activities and physically tried to harm her on many occasions. She had gone to Kihim to inspect a site where the mining activities were being operated, that’s when the mafia attacked her. The threats continued even later as they called her and said stuff like ‘aapko dekh lenge’. She then helped form MITRA (Movement against Intimidation, Threat and Revenge against Activists), a network of NGOs to protect activists.