The air pollution in Mumbai doesn’t seem to be going anytime soon. It is only getting aggravated with time. And we humans have caused irreparable damage to our ecosystem, the way we treat our surroundings is pathetic. Over the last few years, Mumbai has lost a huge chunk of forest land to encroachers and our beaches littered with a lot of trash and detritus. Air quality in Mumbai is deteriorating owing to the increasing level of PM10 which is caused by dust pollution. You ask, ‘What can Mumbai do to beat air pollution?’ Well, ‘Let Me Breathe (LMB)’, a platform that documents and narrates stories of living and surviving air pollution in India, recently hosted its fourth session with Twitter India in Mumbai on May 3, 2019. The aim of the session was to find collective solutions to all kinds of issues in Mumbai including pollution, climate change, and sustainability. The panel was moderated by Neeta Kolhatkar, City Editor of The Free Press Journal, and on the panel were leaders across the political spectrum – Aditya Thackeray (President, Yuva Sena), Milind Deora (President, INC Mumbai), Ashish Shelar (President, BJP Mumbai) and Kishore Mandhyan (Co-convener, AAP Maharashtra). The panelists also discussed upcoming schemes of the government to tackle air pollution.
Neeta Kolhatkar started the discussion by highlighting the horrible statistics of air pollution. She says, “According to WHO, the air we breathe in is growing dangerously polluted nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air. It is actually taking a toll on seven million people who die every year. One-third of people die of stroke, lung cancer, and other heart diseases because of polluted air and of course, smoking contributes to it. But what it also effects is drinking water, economy, real estate, recreational activities, and tourism.”
On environment vs development
INC Mumbai President Milind Deora feels environment and quality of life is far more important than development. He says, “The discussion of environment vs development is beyond Aarey and Mumbai, it is a global issue, which includes how do you develop cities to create jobs, how do you bring industries in and at the same time how do you ensure that the environment is protected. A sub-part of the environment is quality of life and the important sub-part of quality of life is the air you breathe in and the water you have access to. I think the environment and quality of life in some ways are far more important than development is. Because what is the use of providing people jobs when people are dying of poor air quality and don’t have excess to affordable healthcare.”
On electric vehicles
Aditya Thackeray feels in the next 10 years Mumbai will have a lot of electric vehicles. For the same, we need to create eco-system which is clean and we need to make use of solar and wind energy to charge these vehicles. To which BJP Mumbai President Ashish Shelar revealed that he has been working on creating a solar park in Bandra, where they will generate 18kw of solar energy. The park will be equipped with charging points for electric vehicles.
On Mahul Crisis
Yuva Sena President Aditya Thackeray feels the only solution to Mahul crisis is creating a green belt around the area. He also adds people need to be moved out from there and not shift in many more people as the area has become high in terms of water and air pollution. He says, “So the fact of the matter is Mahul has a couple of refineries which you cannot move out form Mumbai because it has been there for years and it is also essential for our country. The only solution to it is, according to the court order, create a green zone around it, we need to focus on that. The other solution to that is there are around 2,000 people who are living in an extreme danger zone. The honourable CM and I have been trying to coordinate on the same with the help of different agencies including MHADA to help people move out and not shift in more people. Because the area has become high in terms of water pollution, air pollution, and every possible pollution.”
Aditya feels Mahul is unsafe for residents and no amount of amenities can help them, they must be moved out immediately. He says, “The MPCB, Neeri, and IITs have various reports where they say everything is polluted. Of course, there was a proposal from BMC, state and central to invest in terms of dispensaries, schools and better housing but if you can’t breathe clean air there and drink clean water, the number of dispensaries, schools, and better houses are not enough. We need to shift them out immediately to another area. We are trying to work with MHADA to shift them to better places and that is going on right now and within a month or so they will be shifted out at least from the high-risk areas.”
Since there are a lot of ongoing projects in Mumbai, space is a constraint. He says, “The only problem is where do you shift them? Right now the work going on in the city you have tenants occupied by project-affected people some from metro, highway and we are looking for space where everyone can be shifted.”
Policies to tackle pollution
“If you look at the international picture, normally we juxtapose air pollution with global climate change. The cost to fight air pollution in all its form until 2030 is 54 trillion dollars. While the cost to fight global climate change until 2030 is about 24 trillion dollars. Air pollution is the silent killer,” says Kishore Mandhyan, Co-convener, AAP Maharashtra. He feels air pollution is a complex issue and explains the micro and macro policies to deal with it. He says, “The macro policies is essentially the kind of zoning you do, the threshold you put on the tier I city so that the traffic is diverted to tier II and III cities. Because beyond a certain size, congestion and living very closely create a particular kind of effects on children. For instance, we don’t realise that ground-level ozone is a major air pollutant problem and it affects children and leads to motor function impairment and also cognitive impairment. So we have to identify what is the priority within air pollution we need to focus on.” Kishore also suggests to create green covers on terraces of high rise buildings and create a green belt around cities.