Is Mumbai’s Air Becoming As Bad As Delhi’s?

Mumbaikars have a tough life with high property prices making housing unaffordable while poor infrastructure makes travel times a nightmare. But if that wasn’t bad enough, they now have to deal with rising air pollution, with data from SAFAR (the System of Air quality, Weather Forecasting and Research) showing that Mumbai’s air is becoming as bad as that of Delhi.

“On an average, the air quality numbers for Mumbai range between 200 to a little over 300, with the concentration of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10 in the moderate to high range. This is really not a good sign and we must take steps to check it before it crosses 300” say KS Hosalikar, the deputy director general of meteorology in Mumbai.

In the danger zone: Mumbai’s air quality dips

That may be a little too late. The air quality index (AQI) has already breached the 300 mark several times, with areas like Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the Western Suburbs, Malad and Borivali falling into the poor and very poor categories. Experts have found moderate to high levels of pollutants such as PM 2.5 and PM 10, which can be dangerous to human health.

“These are dust particles which are not visible to the naked eye and we don’t realize the effect it has on us. The literature says PM 2.5 can severely affect someone who has lung disease and asthma and is irremovable once it goes into your lungs” warns KS Hosalikar.

Why is Mumbai’s air turning terrible?

So where is all this muck coming from? Like in Delhi, vehicular traffic is the first suspect generating vast amounts of PM 2.5. But that’s just one part of the story. Mumbai’s poor infrastructure has to take a majority of the blame.

“The number of vehicles in Mumbai is one-third that of Delhi, but the number of vehicles per kilometer of road is 3 to 4 times more than Delhi. This density coupled with narrow roads & bad traffic management leads to traffic jams and slow-moving traffic, which releases more harmful pollutants into the air” says transport analyst, Ashok Datar.

The construction sector is the other major culprit, releasing PM 10 pollutants in the form of dust and debris. Most under-construction projects in the city observe little or no waste-disposal norms, and construction is carried out in the open air with no netting or material in place to trap air-borne particles.

Can Mumbai breathe easy?

Experts say if urgent measures aren’t taken to solve these problems, air-quality levels in Mumbai will dip even further. That would be fatal for the city, making people think twice before moving here.

“When making investment or real estate decisions, people usually take into account factors such as price, location and infrastructure. While these are important, I definitely see pollution, especially high pollution levels becoming the deciding factor going ahead” say Joe Verghese, MD. Colliers India

The government is considering several measures including CNG and implementation of odd-even traffic rules, but they are unlikely to be implemented soon. Will the government be able to get its act together to curb pollution? Or will Mumbaikars have to deal with one more issue that is making their city increasingly unlivable? Only time will tell.

Nikhil Narayan Sivadas, Assistant Editor, NDTV


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