Mumbai: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the country’s richest civic body, announced its “largest-ever” budget of over Rs 50,000 crore Saturday, but set aside less than 0.05 per cent of it for one of Mumbai’s most pressing issues — its worsening air quality.
BMC administrator Iqbal Chahal announced a seven-step plan under the ‘Mumbai Clean Air Initiative’, as part of the 2023-24 municipal budget.
The plan outlines “better practices” for construction and demolition of buildings, measures to reduce dust on roads, clean transportation, sustainable waste management, projects to create urban greenery, effective air quality monitoring, and communication and awareness campaigns.
The civic body has set aside a Rs 25-crore budget for this — which includes money for installing air purifiers, a contentious project but one pushed by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
Chahal clarified that this was a general allocation for mitigation of air pollution and that the concerned departments will make more specific allocations as required. For instance, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) undertaking will specify its own estimate for the purchase of electric buses, which are part of the seven-step plan, he said.
“CM and Deputy CM (Devendra Fadnavis) are concerned about the growing air pollution in the city. And the CM even wrote a letter suggesting we put air purifiers across the city. We are monitors and regulators and will continue to monitor air pollution,” Chahal told the media Saturday.
Environmental experts and Opposition leaders have, however, expressed doubts about the efficacy of installing air purifiers to control the pollution.
The BMC has been under an administrator since March 2022, when the term of its general body expired. Elections are expected to be held this year.
Mumbai’s air quality has been worsening since December last year. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has remained in the poor to very poor category since, with the city beating even Delhi’s pollution levels on some days.
Opposition leaders in Maharashtra, especially the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) faction, have criticised the Shinde-led government for not prioritising Mumbai’s air pollution issue.
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BMC’s plan to tackle air pollution
As suggested by CM Shinde, five air purifying stations will be set up in Mumbai, at Dahisar toll Naka, Mulund Check Naka, Mankhurd, Kalanagar Junction and Haji Ali Junction to continuously monitor air quality, said the budget.
Additionally, the BMC will procure about 3,000 more electric buses and over a course of time, take the total fleet of electric buses to 7,000, said Chahal. It currently has about 400, according to BMC sources.
BMC also has plans to reduce road dust and mitigate the effect of dust caused by construction and demolition work by making sure developers follow guidelines such as providing dust screens along the external facade of buildings, use of water sprinklers, using covered vehicles for transporting debris and construction material and so on, said the BMC administrator.
The civic body is also banking on creating more urban forests with the Japanese Mayawaki method. Mumbai has already planted about three lakh trees using this method and hopes to take this number up to four lakh by March this year.
The Shiv Sena (UBT) has previously slammed the BMC for not implementing the Mumbai Climate Action Plan, drafted when Aaditya Thackeray was the State Environment Minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and the BMC was governed by the erstwhile undivided Shiv Sena. The MVA comprises the Shiv Sena (UBT), the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress.
Last year the Sena split into the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Shinde-led Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena, following a rebellion among Sena MLAs led by Shinde, resulting in the collapse of the Uddhav-led MVA government in Maharashtra. The Shinde faction and the BJP then went on to form government in the state.
Chahal claimed Saturday that the BMC’s current plan includes elements from the Climate Action Plan.
“MCAP (Mumbai Climate Action Plan) has certain points which we have incorporated here. Like electric buses, desalination plant in Mumbai, STP (sewage treatment plant) projects, dedicated climate action plan cell, which is already halfway through,” said Chahal.
Critics not impressed
City-based environmental activists are, however, not impressed with the BMC’s plans, especially with the decision to procure air purifiers.
“Air purifiers have not worked in Delhi and by putting them up in (a) few places, how will they tackle air pollution for the city? Instead they should work towards planting more natural purifiers, that is trees,” said environmentalist Zoru Bathena.
Debi Goenka, founder and director of Mumbai Conservation Action Trust, told ThePrint that the concept of air purifiers was like “putting an air-conditioner in the compound and expecting it to work. Even for a hostel air purifier, windows need to be closed so how will it work in the open?”
Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Aaditya Thackeray has also slammed the idea of air purifier towers calling them “bogus”.
“They (vendors) had come to me when I was an environment minister. They were selling those products for Rs 8-10crore. I have studied them in detail. Machines, air purifiers don’t work deeply. They are being used but BMC is not attacking the source of dust,” Thackeray told reporters Saturday.
Chahal, however, said that the BMC had studied similar setups in various cities and that it wouldn’t be right to compare Mumbai with Delhi as “Delhi has high pollution levels, but purifiers seem to work elsewhere”. Delhi has installed smog towers to control air pollution.
Meanwhile, Goenka and Bathena also expressed doubts about the BMC’s plans of implementing sustainability in construction work.
“There are guidelines in place but nobody seems to follow them and that is the problem,” said Goenka.
Bathena added: ”The government itself is a big contributor to this construction dust. They have now planned a road concretisation project. Will they monitor their own people?”
First Mumbai budget over Rs 50,000 crore
The BMC presented a whooping Rs 52,619.07 crore budget for the 2023-24 financial year, a jump of 14.5 per cent from last year. According to the civic body, this is the first time in BMC’s history that the budget has crossed Rs 50,000 crore.
According to Chahal this was also the first time that capital expenditure estimates (for 2023-24 financial year), which is the amount spent on infrastructure creation, has surpassed revenue expenditure estimates, with a ratio of 52:48.
According to the budget, BMC is spending heavily on major infrastructure works such as road concretisation and building sewage treatment plants, for both of which projects Prime Minister Narendra Modi had done the groundbreaking ceremony last month.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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