A Breath of Fresh Air

Building a multi-pronged approach to mitigate air pollution through the Mumbai Climate Action Plan

Mumbai is drafting a Climate Action Plan, led by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change, Government of Maharashtra, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The MCAP will serve as a systematic framework to measure impacts and guide the city towards low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways. WRI India has been engaged as a knowledge partner for this endeavor.

The Plan will focus on six key action areas to build sector-specific strategies for mitigation and adaptation. This blog looks at the ‘Air Quality’ action area.

Air pollution in Mumbai has worsened over the years, taking a toll on the health of citizens because of prolonged exposure to vehicular emissions, burning of landfill waste and indoor pollution due to burning of firewood. The city has been ranked as the fourth-most polluted megacity in the world in 2016 by the global air pollution database of the World Health Organization (WHO) published in 2018[1].  

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-is-now-the-fourth-most-polluted-mega-city-in-the-world-says-who/story-LktodfXz52RuaOqwJREfJJ.html

The Air Quality Scenario in Mumbai

A WRI India analysis undertaken for the period 2015-2020 as part of the Mumbai Climate Action Plan, 2021 revealed that particulate matter, especially PM10 and PM2.5, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were the major pollutants in Mumbai, contributed primarily by vehicular emissions, dust from construction sites, and industrial units and power plants.

Usually during the winter months from November to February, the concentration of these pollutants increases as most of them settle down due to lower temperatures. This is evident from the illustrative example of Kurla which shows high PM2.5 concentration in the pre-winter and winter months in 2019 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: PM2.5 concentration in Kurla in 2019-20

Source 1: MPCB Monitoring Station, 2019, 2020

Keeping in line with this trend, the concentration of PM2.5 also showed a winter spike in October 2020 as compared to other months of the year.  

Following this analysis, air pollution hotspots have been identified across Mumbai based on the concentration of NO2 and PM2.5in the pre-pandemic year of 2019 (Figure 2 & 3). These include areas in the central and south-eastern parts of the city (devoid of the influence of sea-breeze). A ward-wise analysis reveals Wards M/E (Deonar, Govandi, Mankhurd, Trombay) M/W (Mahul, Chembur) F/N (Antop Hill, Sion) and N (Ghatkopar, Vikhroli) as very critical. The other hotspots include the airport area, Andheri, Kurla, and traces in South Mumbai in Worli and Colaba. A National Green Tribunal (NGT) order passed in August 2020 had stated Mahul, Ambapada and Chembur as ‘gas chambers’, caused by the petroleum industries through emissions from logistic services, gas and chemical items and volatile organic compounds[2]. A respiratory morbidity survey undertaken by KEM Hospital, Mumbai in 2013 identified cases of breathlessness amongst 67.1% population and chocking sensation amongst 84.5% population in Mahul. Accordingly, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board was directed to prepare a comprehensive Action Plan for control of air pollution.

[2] https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/conditions-in-mahul-equal-to-those-of-a-gas-chamber-ngt/article32379685.ece

Figure 2: Concentration of NO2 in 2019-20
Figure 3: The concentration of PM2.5 in 2019-20

Mumbai’s multi-pronged air pollution problem

The city of Mumbai faces varied challenges in the efficient management and mitigation of air pollution, primarily related to data monitoring, collection, and archiving. A lack of sufficient monitoring stations, absence of data granularity and insufficient availability of publicly available published data against all the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) monitoring stations hinders detailed assessment of air quality within Mumbai at the local scale.

There is a need to improve coordination across stakeholders and establish new mechanisms for the effective monitoring and dissemination of air pollution-related data. The problem is worsened by the absence of a robust database management system and a dedicated nodal body within the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for assessment, monitoring and management of air quality and pollution-related issues.

Apart from these challenges, Mumbai also faces widespread traffic congestion, and was the second most congested city in the world in 2020[3]. This has led to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter.

[3] TomTom traffic Index, 2020

On the other hand, frequent fires at the landfill sites, especially around Deonar, Trombay and Kanjurmarg landfills gives rise to high particulate matter in the air. There is also indiscriminate burning of waste at isolated spaces that aggravates the problem of increased suspension dust. Indoor air pollution is quite common amongst the low-income settlements who use firewood as the main cooking fuel with high PM2.5 concentration.

A multi-faceted solution

As a multi-faceted approach to tackle this critical issue of air pollution, dedicated efforts need to be undertaken to strengthen the ‘Monitoring Mechanism’. A specialized Air Quality Monitoring and Assessment Cell need to be established within MCGM with a robust database management system for better data monitoring and dissemination. This would also require better co-ordination among the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, the Environment Department of the MCGM and other institutions involved in data monitoring, assessment, and forecasting. The Source Apportionment study needs to be undertaken every 3-4 years for better identification of sources of emission. The Implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan needs to be fast paced with stringent regulatory mechanisms.

The interception of pollutants, especially dust associated with construction activities, can be enhanced through increasing urban green corridors along roads and water bodies. Provisions may be made for subsidized and incentivized LPG amongst low-income households who majorly use firewood and kerosene as cooking fuels under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. The health resilience of low-income population and people exposed to regular air pollution can be improved through subsidized health facilities and schemes. The polluting industries need to be encouraged to adopt cleaner fuel technologies for reducing emissions. Finally, an efficient Early Warning System can increase community preparedness and help people adopt precautionary measures against imminent air pollution.

This blog is written by Amrita Chakraborty, Senior Associate, WRI India Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Feature image credits: Vinod Kumar

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