In the month of October 2023, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court raised concerns and took suo-moto cognizance of the “deteriorating” air quality index (AQI) of Mumbai.
A Divisional Bench of the Hon’ble Court consisting of Chief Justice D.K. Upadhyay and Justice Arif Doctor, requested a response from the Central and Maharashtra governments, as well as from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the incident.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by three city residents raising the issue of poor AQI in Mumbai.
The PIL was filed as the air quality index (AQI) in the city every day was deteriorating everywhere and not a single area in Mumbai showed any positive results for a better Air Quality Index.
The Court enquired all the concerned authorities to inform what measures they had taken and what steps they are supposed to take under the existing framework of laws.
Even the Indian cricket team captain Rohit Sharma expressed concern about playing in Mumbai during the recently concluded ICC World Cup tournament amid the alarming air quality index levels in the city. Similar concerns were shown by various other cricketers from India as well as abroad.
CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONERS
The petitioners – Amar Baban Tike, Anand Jha, and Sanjay Surve – in their PIL had sought directions to the government and civic authority to curb pollution in the city and to take immediate steps to enhance green cover by undertaking a plantation drive of fast-growing trees and plants in public spaces in the city.
The high level of air pollution being caused by the reckless construction activities in and around the city and lack of sufficient green cover in Mumbai was adversely affecting residents, especially children.
Tike’s petition called for the allocation of sufficient funds and resources for the immediate plantation of fast-growing plants and trees to increase the green cover of Mumbai city.
The petition also sought the constitution of a three-member committee to ensure the implementation of the high court’s orders.
The petition argued that the authorities had not fulfilled their statutory duties and had not effectively controlled air pollution by planting a substantial number of trees.
The petitioner emphasized that the adverse effects of these environmental issues were primarily borne by marginalized communities and non-human species.
“That the poor and dis-privileged classes of humans and the other non-human species unfortunately have to bear the main brunt of these environmental problems. Ironically, the crisis is rooted deep in social, economic and political structures, more specifically in relations of inequity of three kind’s Intra-generational inequity, Intra-generational inequity, and Inter-species inequity,”
The PIL moved pointed out that the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution also includes the right to a healthy environment.
EXISTING SITUATIONS IN MUMBAI
The city’s development over the past three decades has come at a cost – 42.5% decline in urban green cover.
Researchers from various schools and colleges used multi-temporal satellite images provided by United States Geological Survey to assess this decline by using land use land cover changes, land surface temperature, proportion of vegetation, and other parameters for Mumbai during spring over 30 years.
“Mumbai, with one of the highest amount of sprawl, is heading towards a complete urban disaster. Basic amenities such as water and vegetation for pure air will be almost non-existent if planners do not take note and stop unplanned urbanisation and outgrowth in the urban periphery”- Bharat H. Aithal, (Prof. of IIT Kharagpur).
Researchers said unplanned urbanisation in cities such as Mumbai has an impact on the environment and eventually on health.
In fact, a study by Environment Policy and Research India (EPRI) has listed solid waste management, noise pollution (traffic and construction noise), cutting trees for infrastructure projects, water pollution, air pollution and urban heat islands as the major environmental issues plaguing Mumbai.
The PIL moved stated that Mumbai with its 1.7 crore residents has seen a steep rise in people falling sick in recent times, ailing from lung infections and coughs.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” made it very clear that the climate crisis in the city is accelerating at a pace like never before and warned that it is ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. From deforestation and droughts to air pollution and plastic waste, thus, there being several factors exacerbating global warming.
According to the Experts at ASAR Social Impact Advisors and IQAir, Delhi was the most polluted city in India, followed by Jaipur, Mumbai, and Nagpur, all falling in the ‘unhealthy’ air quality index (AQI), the primary culprits for which remain the same and certain natural factors like limited wind movement that trap pollutants owing to geographical features, compounding the problem.
With Mumbai’s urban population growing at 5% annually as compared to national average of 3.68%, researchers said any unplanned growth in the future in terms of residential and commercial buildings, and infrastructure development would mean “citizens would be starved of pure air and lung spaces, and taps would go completely dry.
Mumbai is facing several environmental problems that are rising by the day. Lack of co-ordinated action or good governance is the main cause of unplanned urbanisation and too many state government agencies and lack of co-ordination has led to fragmentation in governance.
Therefore, the city needs a comprehensive environmental plan for the next five years, which is similar to a development plan for the city. The government and private stake holders need to put it in place an environment plan keeping in mind the health impacts, safety of citizens and the preservation of the environment simultaneously.
Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.
This article has been assisted by Kush Shanker, a 2nd-year law student pursuing B.B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) from Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.