Air pollution in India’s capital Delhi is often discussed, but recently the problem of pollution in Mumbai, which is called the financial capital of the country, was in the headlines. In the recent past, there have been some days when the pollution level in Mumbai went even higher than Delhi. On Monday last week, Mumbai was the second most polluted city in the world and Delhi was the sixth most polluted city in the index of IQAir, a Swiss company that monitors the 109 most polluted cities in the world. However, on Monday this week, Delhi has come at third place and Mumbai at fifth place. Unlike Delhi, Mumbai’s inclusion in this list is a bit surprising because it is on the sea coast where the wind blows.
However, this time after increasing pollution in Mumbai also, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) made emergency arrangements like Delhi. These include measures like installation of anti-smog guns, making it mandatory to cover construction sites and vehicles carrying debris and use of CCTV for strict monitoring. However, this crisis had occurred in Mumbai last year also during the cold season, after which in March this year, BMC had released a plan to deal with pollution in Mumbai. But, it is not clear to what extent the measures suggested in that plan were followed and how effective they were. Mumbai is said to be a city that never sleeps. Construction goes on continuously in this city.
Apart from real estate projects, some work related to various infrastructure sector projects like metro and coast road keeps going on here. But this reality cannot be denied that the environment and people’s health are having to pay the price of these development works. Actually, the dust blowing from these construction sites mainly contains PM2.5 and PM10 particles which are quite harmful for health. PM2.5, i.e. particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are particularly dangerous as they not only penetrate deep into the lungs but also enter the bloodstream. This causes respiratory diseases like asthma, affects lung function, and can even lead to heart attack. PM10 particles are slightly larger, but they can also reach the lungs.
According to BMC, there are about 6,000 construction sites in Mumbai, the actual number of which may be more. Each of these sites is responsible for pollution. When pollution increases, BMC takes strict action and makes it mandatory to take measures to control pollution and dust, but there are doubts about the effectiveness of such measures. In the context of the real estate sector, there is a strong need to prioritize public health over rapid development in Mumbai. Accountability should be fixed for this and it should be strictly followed.
By the way, climate experts are of the opinion that Mumbai’s pollution is not a crisis caused only by Mumbai, but it is also related to the global climate situation. They name the La Nina effect of weather due to which the direction of the wind changes, and the pollutants remain trapped in the lower atmosphere for a long time. It is not possible to control climate impacts, but this teaches us that cities should be prepared for such situations. Apart from construction sites, two more factors contribute to Mumbai’s pollution – road dust and vehicle emissions. Dust particles spread in the atmosphere from vehicles carrying debris from construction sites. Measures like covering these vehicles with tarpaulins etc. are steps in the right direction, but they are not a permanent solution. Using cleaner fuels in vehicles and promoting electric vehicles can be more sustainable solutions. Like Delhi, anti-smog guns and fog cannons were deployed in Mumbai too, which gives the impression that a war is being fought against pollution, but without scientific evidence it is not clear how effective they are.
Given the enormity of the pollution crisis in Mumbai, an integrated strategy is needed. All government departments and real estate sector organizations should use their resources together. What is needed most now is that the standards of vehicular pollution should be strictly followed, urban development plans should be environment friendly, campaigns should be run to increase forest areas, and resources should be used in a holistic manner for public awareness. Reactive measures may provide temporary relief after the uproar over pollution, but greater efforts should be made in every department to build a clean and sustainable Mumbai. Mumbai’s air pollution crisis warns that the idea of sustainable development of cities cannot be ignored.
(These are the personal views of the author)