Air,water,greenery… pollution takes a toll

Air,water,greenery… pollution takes a toll

Reluctance on part of government agencies to implement laws and lack of awareness on part of citizens will spell trouble for the city’s environment unless adequate measures are taken

Windows closed,drapes drawn and straining to hear the volume on their TV — This is how the Bafnas spend New Year Eve every year. Living in a building adjacent to Khar Gymkhana,where loud music allegedly continues till 3 am,far beyond the deadline,they are left with little choice. “Dialing 100 to complain about the noise is,sadly,how I begin every year. We understand the need for nightlife or celebrations but why keep everyone else awake and irritable?” said Pankaj Bafna,a lawyer specialising in cyber crime.

With festivals increasingly becoming associated with loud music and 1,23,500 vehicles added to the city from April-November,Mumbaikars were subjected to alarming levels of air and noise pollution this year. “As big festivals are often backed by politicians,even the police cite helplessness when asked to take action. We have strong laws but implementation is the problem,” said Sumaira Abdulali,founder of Awaaz Foundation.

In the last week of 2013,the levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) recorded at Sion were 45 per cent and 122 per cent above acceptable levels. During Ganesh Chaturthi,Awaaz Foundation recorded noise levels of 123.2 decibels at Worli Naka,the highest ever they have witnessed in a decade and far noisier than a rock concert.

Through the year,activists and citizen groups have fought environmental violations and for changes in projects planned in the city to make them environment-friendly. But the defiance of governmental agencies to address or even acknowledge environmental concerns and their inefficiency in curbing violations could cause major damage to the city in the coming year.


It may be recalled that a 2005 Bombay High Court order gave mangrove areas on government land the status of “protected forests” and mangrove land under private ownership the status of “forests”. The protection given to mangroves on government land was upgraded when a GR in June 2013 declared the “protected forests” as “reserved forests”,where any activity is prohibited.

Yet,in 2013,the city lost nearly 10 hectares of mangroves.

Direct dumping on wetlands or their periphery,building bunds or embankments to block tidal water and cutting and poisoning were methods employed by private parties “to free up land”. Environmentalist Debi Goenka says the lack of adequate land for housing in Mumbai is a myth. “There is enough land with builders and government agencies that could be used for housing instead of reclaiming wetlands and destroying mangroves,” said Goenka.

Few citizens understand the damage that loss of mangroves can cause to the city. Mangroves have,to an extent,protected flood-prone Mumbai from major problems during the monsoons each year. Also,the city’s drainage system is equipped to handle only 25mm of rainfall per hour. It has been eight years since the deluge,yet,so far,the BMC has only overhauled 18 km of the island city’s drainage network in need of urgent repairs. Work on 64 km of crumbling drains is still pending,while work on the Mithi river revival project is yet to be completed.

This year,the city saw two major oil spills in October — owing to an ONGC pipeline rupture in Uran and an MbPT pipeline leak in Mahul — causing further harm to the environment. The spills killed fish,polluted the creeks and also led to loss of livelihood for the Koli community. Fishermen from Uran claim they spent more time attending hearings at the National Green Tribunal fighting “giants” such as JNPT,ONGC,CIDCO than at sea. “We don’t want the government to celebrate the Koli heritage,we just want them to save it,” says fisherman Ramdas Koli (71).

Another worrying factor is that few citizens take responsibility for the city and its environment — many often dispose of waste in

open spaces,honk unnecessarily and don’t keep a check on vehicle pollution.

“The fearlessness of land sharks in invading mangrove lands with a false sense of impunity works against us,” said N Vasudevan,chief conservator of forests,mangrove cell. “Also,many educated and well-meaning people tend to view environment as a stumbling block to development. This is detrimental to efforts made to

preserve it,” he added.