Why has Mumbai's air gotten so bad this winter?

Mumbai's air quality has swung between "poor" and "very poor" since December 2022
Why has Mumbai's air gotten so bad this winter?
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Mumbai has in recent weeks been experiencing what it is to be Delhi during peak pollution season. The coastal city’s air quality has deteriorated considerably since December, leaving residents more choked and breathless than they have been in years.

And while the authorities are blaming each other for the dirty air, doctors in the city are expecting more patients in days to come.

“A heavy layer of smog particularly at this time is expected but then this year it’s more than usual. I am struggling with dry cough myself,” Rachna Kapoor, a 30-year-old media executive living in Mumbai’s Sion for the past five years, told Quartz.

Experts have noticed something about Mumbai’s air this year.

“Mumbai normally sees moderate to poor AQI [air quality index] during winter months...This, however, is the first time the city has seen a prolonged period of poor to very poor AQI since SAFAR began tracking it six years ago,” Dr Gufran Beig, founder project director at SAFAR, a government agency that monitors air quality in major Indian cities, told The Print on Jan. 8.

A higher AQI value implies more air pollution.

AQI levels of different categories as per SAFAR norms.
AQI levels of different categories as per SAFAR norms.
Screenshot: SAFAR

Since December 2022, Mumbai has seen its air quality swing between poor and very poor at an AQI of 200-400. On some days this month, it sank deeper than India’s capital which has for years battled cataclysmic pollution levels during winter.

Mumbai’s air quality was “poor” today, with an overall AQI of 215. SAFAR has advised people with heart or lung diseases, older adults, and children to reduce longer or heavy exertion and outdoor activity when things are this bad.

What’s polluting Mumbai’s air?

A change in wind speed, vehicular pollution, and a resumption of heavy construction activities are among the major culprits behind Mumbai’s worsening air pollution, experts believe.

“After the two-year Covid gap, construction activities including infrastructure and real estate are back in full swing. leading to a phenomenal rise in pollution in Mumbai,” an official of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) told The Print. Mumbai is the capital of India’s Maharashtra state.

Around 1,500 redevelopment and construction projects are operational across the city.

“Absence of green curtains around construction sites, a lack of regular sprinkling of water on truck tyres debris before loading and unloading material are (also) some of the factors causing pollution,” The Times of India reported on Jan. 29.

Mumbai civic authorities or the Maharashtra government have, till now, made no major attempts to improve the situation.