Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly Victoria Terminus, in Mumbai. Photo by thebigdurian on Flickr.
I love Mumbai’s air..though it is very polluted as everyone says. At places, the air brings the smell of sea or wafting smell of lovely roadside food, at other places of leather, ammonia, garbage and stench of human filth. Now, all we seem to breathe in Mumbai is unbearable amounts of toxic gas mix all over Mumbai. Mumbai’s coastal climate is ideal for removal of air pollutants, however, the rate of removal is slower than the rate at which pollutants are generated, hence we end up with a cauldron of toxic gas mix.
Air pollution has a telling effect on the citizens of the city I love. My neighbour’s 5 year old son in Nerul, Navi Mumbai suffers from all sorts of respiratory problems. This is not however an isolated case. Scores of people, especially from the vulnerable group – children, women and old people - are affected. The effect of polluted air on human health is well known. This translates to persondays lost in as people fall sick more often – which in turn – means loss of revenue. The commercial capital of the country must not tolerate this loss. So it should take a cue from how the capital Delhi has dealt with air pollution.
As with everything else that citizens of Mumbai put up with, from terrorism to packed trains, heavily polluted air is also another in their list of things that they have come to accept. Very complacent huh? or are the people of Mumbai sitting ducks?
Sitting ducks, photograph by Purushottam V.Rao
How bad is the pollution on Mumbai? The city authorities are well aware of what it could loose if it fails to address this pressing issue of air pollution. It is engaged in various ameliorative measures to address the issue. What remains to be seen is whether these measures are yielding any positive results.
For the uninitiated, the common air pollutants are :
Carbon Monoxide - CO
Oxides of Nitrogen - NOx
Sulphur Dioxide - SO2
Suspended particular matter - SPM
Respirable suspended particulate matter - RSPM
Hydrocarbons – HC
Deteriorating air quality is the result of rapid economic growth, industrial output, unprecedented rise in vehicles to cater to the city’s burgeoning population.
As per World Bank report 1997 - “In Mumbai (Bombay) the main contributor of air pollution is the transport sector, followed by power plants, industrial units and burning of garbage. Fuel quality and engine conditions significantly influence the level of air pollution To arrest this growing problem, a concerted effort with public involvement is essential. Awareness of the issue, proactive policies, economically affordable standards and technologies and effective enforcement are key elements in any effective air quality management strategy A long- term perspective shows that early adoption of policies for environmentally safer technologies can allow developing countries to resolve some of the most difficult problems of industrialization and growth at lower human and economic cost.”
Ameliorative measures by city admin mainly focus on the vehicular pollution :
1) The bus and rail network in Mumbai is by far the best
public transportation infrastructure in the country in terms
of coverage, carrying capacity, and utilization. Moreover,
Mumbai is implementing an MRTS – metropolitan railway transit system.
2) In the spring of 2002 the High Court issued an order
that all the diesel taxis in the city change to using compressed natural gas [CNG]. They were allowed a few months to do so. Infrastructure was hastily set up to allow for this transition. Now all taxis which ply in Mumbai are either CNG or petrol.
3) The strengthening of the cities arterial roads and introduction of 55 flyovers for smoother flow of traffic in and out of the city.
These results of these measure show a steady decline in SO2 and RSPM concentrations in Mumbai. NOx concentrations are below the NAAQS standards and have remained steady. Monitoring results are available on Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board website.
However, SPM remains above NAAQS in Mumbai. A comprehensive emission inventory was conducted in 1997 for Mumbai as part of the Urban Air Quality Management Strategy (URBAIR). It was found in the study that the total suspended particulates exposure was primarily due to resuspension from roads caused by vehicles(40%), emission from diesel and gasoline vehicles (14%), domestic wood and refuse burning (31%), and others (15%) (World Bank 1997). The aspect of resuspension formed one of the important areas of investigation in the later emission inventory-related studies.
And people’s perception of high air pollution is due to these levels of suspended particulate matter. The World Bank conducted a public perception survey in 2004. One purpose of the survey was to compare the perceptions of stakeholders to the findings of the recent analyses of air quality trends and sources of particulate air pollution in Indian cities. The survey was not designed to yield statistically significant results. It was rather a modest attempt to get a broad picture of the perceptions and understandings of informed observers of urban air pollution in India. “Nearly half of the respondents said
that air quality in their cities was deteriorating. Transport was
considered the most important cause of air pollution.” Country Synthesis report on Urban air Quality,Dec 2006.
I get to hear this from a lot of people who travel from the west to Mumbai and get stuck in the city’s maze of taxi’s and three wheelers – unable to bear the pollution or the heat of the city – they come back and say that ‘Oh my God, Mumbai is so polluted’. One must take a leaf out of the former mayor of London – who decided to take the local train during his stay in Mumbai (just to get a feel of it - I suppose!). Either the monitoring done in the city is at wrong locations – hence showing decreasing trend in pollutant concentrations or the people have wrong perceptions regarding the changing air quality of city of Mumbai!!
People’s perception has a lot to do with air quality battles – rather than depending on the city admin to change the air quality – and avoid being sitting ducks – the citizens of Mumbai must participate actively in the following through proactive groups:
1. Refuse burning – form area active groups to prevent refuse burning
2. Construction activities – ensure builders in your area comply with mitigation measures for air pollution – a construction phase of a project is a temporary phase and hence many builders do not employ any mitigation measures for air pollution reduction. A year of construction activity may result in a year of misery in a child or senior citizens life.
3. Diesel generators generate a lot of SPM and SO2 – many of these generators can be seen at construction sites – it is the duty of the citizen to form an action group – to ensure DG sets comply with current emission norms(Refer CPCB websites on DG set emission norms).
4. Use public transport – leave personal vehicles at home.
5. Service your vehicle and keep your pollution under control certificate up to date.
6. Spot out vehicles using adulterated fuel – and report to state police.
The CPCB website gives a list of dos and donts for the citizens for reducing vehicular pollution.
The latest environmental status report is available at http://mpcb.gov.in/images/pdf/envreportmumbai.pdf.
Taking a cue from the cities of Pune, Delhi and Hyderabad, the citizens of Mumbai - could ask for digital signboards indicating the air pollutant concentrations for each day.
Don’t be sitting ducks – be proactive – breathe cleaner air!