WHILE MUMBAI has achieved better air quality on certain parameters over the last 15 years, the financial capital is now well over twice as dusty as it was in 2001.
Data from the Central Pollution Control Board, compiled by the Union government, shows that levels of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen in the air are significantly lower than in previous years, average levels of particulate matter have increased dramatically in Mumbai.
A report titled ‘EnviStats-India 2019’, published by the Central Statistics Office, shows that particulate matter in Mumbai rose from an average of 67.2 microgram per cubic metre in 2001 to 151 microgram per cubic metre in 2017, rising steadily barring a small dip in 2014.
Particulate matter or particle pollution comprises very small solid particles mixed with droplets of liquids, possibly including metals, soil, dust particles as well as nitrates and sulphates. Increased construction activity, unpaved roads, road works and pollutants from industries or motor vehicles contribute to particulate matter, which is inhalable and therefore, immediately dangerous. The report specifically refers to PM10, or particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers.
During the same period, particulate matter in New Delhi went from 146 microgram per cubic metre to 241 microgram per cubic metre while dust pollution in Bengaluru 68 to 92 microgram per cubic metre.
“Mumbai has long taken its coastal wind for granted. Soon, the wind will be unable to clean pollutants in the air,” said Yash Mar-wah, founder of Let India Breathe. “Development vs environment is a false debate caused by haphazard planning by ecologically illiterate politicians and planners. With proper consultation, this can be avoided,” he added.
Between 2001 and 2017, Mumbai, however, did cut levels of nitrogen oxides in the air from 23 microgram per cubic metre to 18 microgram per cubic metre while sulphur dioxide levels went from 16 microgram per cubic metre to 3 microgram per cubic metre — deceasing steadily every year possibly due to improved emission norms, a trend mirrored in all major cities.
Delhi bucks the trend on oxides of nitrogen, with this particular group of pollutants caused by combustion of fossil fuels and road traffic actually worsening over the last decade and a half.
The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), an initiative of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, provides location-specific information on air quality in India. SAFAR, developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, along with partner institutions India Meteorological Department and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, works to raise awareness on air quality levels. Area such as the Kurla end of the Bandra Kurla Complex have shown consistently “moderate levels” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” of air quality.