Mumbai’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has been recording alarming levels since the onset of winter. According to recordings by SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research), a government monitoring system that tracks pollution and air quality in Indian cities, the AQI was between 300 and 400 for 23 days in January. Any number above 200 is considered poor air quality and unhealthy, and anything above 300 is seriously dangerous to people’s health and the environment.
With the lingering grey dusty haze not lifting, and AQI levels continuing to hover at 200-300, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on February 2 directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to install air purifier towers at hot spots in the city. Shinde also said that Mumbai would need to look at methods of purifying air along the lines of Delhi, Gurugram, and Lucknow.
While the city undergoes periods of poor AQI in the colder months, experts said that this was the first time Mumbai has witnessed a prolonged period of bad air quality. Gufran Beig, meteorologist and founder-director of SAFAR, attributed the poor air quality to a change in the “natural advantages of wind patterns, resulting in dust particles remaining in the air”.
At a meeting titled “Clearing the Air—Improving Air Quality in Mumbai,” organised by Mumbai First, a collaboration of corporates working towards improving the city, Beig warned city administrators about other contributing factors to poor air such as excess construction activity and debris from construction sites.
Construction and traffic
After a hiatus of two years owing to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, work on the coastal road project and the underground metro has resumed. Additionally, private building construction work also appears to be catching up on lost time. Furthermore, most organisations, especially in the corporate sector, have instructed employees to start working out of their office premises. This has increased vehicular traffic tremendously, adding to the pollution in the city.
On February 1, 2023, the AQI hit 303, with forecasts for similar numbers in the coming days. Citizen groups have been voicing concerns via petitions to the government, while health professionals have raised concerns saying that there has been a noticeable increase in pulmonary cases, especially among children.
According to the SAFAR dashboard, mid-January saw the AQI shoot up to 319. Also, six out of the nine monitoring stations located across Mumbai recorded readings above 300.
AQI is a yardstick to measure the quality of air in a given area. It is measured from 0 to 500. A higher value of AQI denotes a greater level of pollutants in the air and hence, a more severe impact on health. According to SAFAR’s AQI monitoring chart, an AQI of 0-50 is termed ‘good’, 51-100 is ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 is ‘moderate’, 201-300 is termed ‘poor’, 301-400 is ‘very poor’ and beyond 400 the AQI is labelled ‘severe’.
The recordings of AQI.in, another pollution tracker’s web site, showed that the most polluted area in the city was Mazgoan, where the AQI of 501 was also termed “hazardous”. The Bandra-Kurla Complex and the Malad region followed with recordings of 329 and 344.
Online petitions, environment, and civic groups, along with health professionals, have been demanding stricter norms at construction sites and garbage dumps and on vehicular traffic and industrial emissions. Some citizens alleged that the refinery at Mazgoan located within city limits must be monitored as it is releasing toxic fumes.
Responding to concerns, V.M. Motghare, joint director of Air Pollution Control, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, said a that Graded Response Action Plan for Mumbai was recently created for Mumbai city. At the Mumbai First meeting, Motghare said that initial plans entailed understanding micro-level sources of pollution. The government has noted the urgency of the situation, he added.