Last week, Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) was worse than in Delhi, sparking off a debate on the financial capital going the Delhi way.
Dr P Anbalagan, Member Secretary, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, speaks about what measures will be taken and about the state’s move to ban various plastic items starting next month. Excerpts from an interview to Indian Express
Last week, Mumbai’s AQI was worse than in Delhi. Do we need a policy level intervention with regard to vehicular use, construction and waste management to ensure we do not go the Delhi way?
We should appreciate that the volume of emission remains the same. Within a month or a year, it does not shoot up exorbitantly. It also depends on the meteorological factors, typically the humidity, wind speed and temperature. Same level of emission on two days, but the temperature varies, so there is no natural dispersal or diffusion, which is normally like flushing, because it happens due to the wind speed.
So, I do not subscribe to the view that our levels will be worse than Delhi’s. It will never happen. These are sporadic things. Vehicular emission is the major source of pollution and, coupled with poor traffic management, it can aggravate the situation. A good traffic flow should take care of 30-40 per cent of the pollution issues.
In cities such as Mumbai, where a lot of redevelopment activities happen including demolition and transportation of waste, this also forms a major source of pollution. Road quality also makes a lot of difference. This is more about management than about technology. When the same dust appears again and again, it is called resuspension. A certain day’s AQI doesn’t indicate that all the dust was accumulated in one day. It includes the dust from the previous day which has not dispersed. So we need good pavements with good roadside plantation, road quality, traffic management and management of construction activity.
We need to have a lot of green plantations and open spaces for carbon fixation, a good traffic management plan, reduced fuel burning with a robust public transport system. We have a graded response, giving advisories for different air quality levels, like avoid using personal vehicles or avoid venturing out of the house. It involves awareness among the people and should be a movement from the people’s side. The state government is planning to ban several plastic items and water bottles from March 18.
Looking at the ineffective implementation of plastic carry-bags below 50 microns, what are the measures suggested to ensure effective implementation?
There are two factors for the use of plastic carry-bags. One is demand and supply while other is comfort and convenience. But, the government has not taken a decision overnight. It is a well thought out process. For the first time in the country, we announced it six months in advance. Second, we have also appealed to people through media about the ban. Third, is about supply of plastic. It is about convenience and comfort for the people. People expect that everything should come from government but everybody has their own responsibility. We also held several divisional level meeting to study alternatives to plastic. We are also looking at making cotton bags attractive and aesthetic. Besides, we will also act on producers, stockists and retailers for penalties.
Have the widespread road digging and construction activity across Mumbai for various infrastructure projects added to the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and dust levels? Are agencies undertaking these projects even monitoring air and noise pollution levels around their sites?
Absolutely. I don’t think the agencies undertaking projects are monitoring pollution levels. They should be able to control the SPM on site. Mumbai also needs infrastructure projects but on a parallel you need to balance it. For controlling pollution, we will suitably guide them and direct them. We are preparing a comprehensive action plan for 10 cities and will consult all the stakeholders. Then we will suitably guide and direct them.
Has increasing vehicle density on roads in Mumbai necessitated traffic restrictions like the odd-even plan in Delhi?
Any isolated ad hoc measure would not yield much. You need to look at comprehensive factors. Instead of going for ad hoc or knee-jerk reaction, we should look at as a whole comprehensive phenomenon, as an urban management phenomenon and as health policy phenomenon. The Greenpeace report found that in 2016, of the 24 cities and towns with air quality monitoring facilities, none had complied with the annual PM10 air quality standards set by the CPCB.
MPCB began formulating an action plan to mitigate air pollution, how far has that progressed?
First of all, our city has performed marginally higher and not like cities such as Kanpur, Varanasi or Kharagpur. Though we are not excellent, we are also not bad. Having more stations will also have comprehensive data. Now, this data is based on one or two stations in a city. We should have a good quality monitoring network in a city. That will also show actual status. We have draft plan ready and will finalise it after a stakeholders’ meeting. The plan includes traffic flow, green cover, stringent norms for thermal power plants with others. By 2020, we should be able to breathe clean air.
At a time when the Maharashtra government is taking several steps to attract industries, some units in Taloja have alleged harassment by local politicians and MPCB officials. They say the board plans to set up expansion plants in other states. What do you say about this?
I’m not aware of anybody leaving the state. I have never seen people shifting to other states. Second, it can’t be taken as an isolated thing as there were lot of cases before the Bombay High Court regarding the non-compliance of the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) norms. Taloja CETP is totally non-compliant. We have an enforcement policy and discretion doesn’t exist. The enforcement policy that defines what exactly is the violation, what is the frequency and what is an incidence. We give them go-ahead for operation immediately after the unit complies with it.