As air quality falls, Mumbai, Pune huff and puff to breathe easy

Story by  IANS | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 3 Months ago
The hazy Mumbai skies
As the early winter sets in in Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Nagpur, people in these cities dread the prospects of inhaling contaminated air and suffering from multitude pollution-related health issues.
Maharashtra is perched high on the pollution pedestal, with 97.60 per cent of the state's 12-crore people living in areas with 'hazardous or unacceptable levels of air pollution'. A World Bank Group study has ranked the state as the "third-most populous sub-national territory in the world", while the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago, has said the state is the 15th most polluted in India.
Mumbai has been placed as the 14th most polluted city in the world with average PM2.5 levels at 45.1mg/cubic metre by the US-based Health Effects Institute and Global Burden of Disease Project of the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation collaborative 'Air Quality and Health in Cities' report, released in August 2022.
The Greenpeace South Asia's Analysis from 2021 ranks Mumbai as the fifth most polluted in the world with the highest number of fatalities (25,000) attributable to air pollution, with Delhi leading as the most contaminated megacity in India.
"The Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MC) has sufficient funds, but has taken limited actions to improve air quality. It should immediately set up a mechanism to issue health warnings whenever air quality deteriorates as air pollution is not only an environmental hazard, but also a serious health issue," said Bhagwan Kesbhat, the CEO of Waatavaran Foundation.
The air quality in Nagpur has been plummeting over the years with thermal power plants' expansion, automobiles, biomass burning and mismanagement of municipal solid wastes. The power plants are responsible for 70 per cent of the air pollution, while the legacy fly ash dumped in three ash-bunds is totally destroying the farmlands thereby reducing farm land yield by up to 40 percent," said Leena Buddhe, Director, Centre for Sustainable Development.
As per the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), Maharashtra has the largest number of non-attainment cities, all fast-growing metropolitan areas struggling to control emissions at source, whether due to industries, automobiles, building or development projects, or subpar waste management, with a daily average of PM2.5 consistently exceeding 35ug/m3.
This naturally has its ill-effects on the people, society, agriculture and the economy, calculated at nearly $3.7 billion (Rs 27,000 crore), said pollution experts.
The latest Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report of Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago, warns that exposure to PM2.5 shortens the average lifespan of a person by 3.7 years in Mumbai, and 4.2 years in Pune, or 4 years in Maharashtra.
The state GDP loss from air pollution as estimated by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is a staggering Rs 7,182 crore, and in Maharashtra, both Mumbai and Pune were the highest in the state and among the regions in India where excessive air pollution from automobiles and industries was linked with the large incidents of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the past two-and-half years.
Official data shows that in terms of Air Quality Index (AQI), the number of good days-bad days in Mumbai was 336/26 (2019), 346/20 (2020), 326/39 (2021) AND in Pune 314/25 (2019), 309/07 (2020), 359/06 (2021).
On AQI, two other major cities of Maharashtra breathe much better. Nagpur - 258/18 (2019), 250/0 (2020), 183/01 (2021); and Aurangabad - 297/04 (2019), 300/0 (2020), 236/02 (2021).
As the state continues to pay a heavy price all-round, experts like Buddhe and Kesbhat suggest urgent remedial measures like promoting renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, strict compliance measure to reduce emission by power plants, boosting public transport and electric/hybrid vehicles, bicycle options, waste segregation, reuse or recycling, bio-mining of legacy waste, water processing, home/community composting, etc.
The dismal data notwithstanding, officials in the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said "there has been a 'steady improvement' in the air quality in India over the years".
A CPCB official said this is attributed to better implementation of NCAP, higher rainfall, switchover to electric vehicles, private firms opting for solar, shift in wind patterns, etc., though MPCB officials admit a dearth of monitoring stations in the state.
Independent specialists point out that the data shows a decline in pollutants during the Covid-19 lockdowns from March 2020, and hence the results need to be compared from end-2022 onwards for assessing the exact pollution trends.
Spurring efforts to combat air pollution, Maharashtra hopes to spend 80 per cent of its Rs 2,218 crore budget for electric vehicles, mostly bus fleets in metropolitan areas like Mumbai, Thane, Pune etc., while the remaining Rs 555 crore would be deployed for initiatives like installing more air quality monitoring stations, dust control measures, and tightening regulations on pollutants spewers like bakeries, crematoria and other enterprises by 2025.