Air Pollution

Air Pollution in Mumbai: An unusual phenomenon needs to be studied


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Air pollution

Mains level: La Nina and Climate change attributed air pollution



  • Anthropogenic emissions are central to environmental issues, whether climate change or air quality. During the peak winter months of November to January in 2022-23, air quality in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, noticeably deteriorated, a taste of what Delhi encounters frequently.

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Mumbai’s deteriorated air quality

  • Out of the past 92 winter days, Mumbai observed 66 poor and very poor air quality days in 2022-23 as compared to just 28 in the past three years’ average. More so, it had just one day in the permissible limit (NAAQS) this year as against the average of 15 days in the recent past.
  • Good days declined, but foul days have increased by a whopping 135 per cent, leaving residents more choked and breathless than they have been in years.
  • On many days during these months, the air quality in Mumbai sank lower than in Delhi.
  • These findings are from India’s first indigenously-developed forecasting framework, SAFAR.

What caused this unusual development in Mumbai?

  • Mainly due to emissions from anthropogenic and natural sources: Air quality deteriorates mainly due to emissions from anthropogenic and natural sources, and weather manoeuvres.
  • La Nina, attributed to climate change, has played an unusual role: The reason for the sudden spike in the current pollution cycle in Mumbai is part of a larger meteorological phenomenon that needs to be studied further. Research suggests that the unprecedented triple dip in La Nina, attributed to climate change, has played an unusual role.
  • Extreme weathers due to climate change but linkage with air quality remains elusive: Scientists have discovered that climate change is leading to extreme weather, changes in the ecosystem, and human displacements, but linkages with air quality remain elusive.

Value addition

  • The weather or climate cannot generate emissions.
  • Some cities like Delhi have a disadvantage due to their geographical location, being landlocked.
  • But coastal cities like Mumbai enjoys a natural cleansing advantage.
  • Stronger surface winds favour faster dispersion and wind reversal cycles of strong sea breezes that sweep away air pollutants from the land.

How this phenomenon has played an unusual role?

  • Change in wind patterns: This phenomenon has led to the change in wind patterns affecting Mumbai, with frequent calmer wind spells, and delayed cleaner sea wind reversal around the region.
  • Reducing dispersal rate of pollutants: This, in turn, affects the natural cleansing mechanism of the city by reducing the dispersal rate of pollutants and trapping the newly generated high-flying dust emissions.
  • Import of transboundary pollution: The import of transboundary pollution from more polluted regions due to wind pattern changes is also adding to the misery. An increase in all sizes of particles (coarser and finer) has been observed.
  • Dust emission is the major reason: It is scientifically prudent to conclude that the major share in the current worsening of air quality is from dust emissions. Many redevelopment and construction projects are operational across the city. So, the increase is due to intensifying emissions at the source, which usually consist of PM 2.5 made up of transport (31 per cent), industries (20 per cent), and resuspended dust (15 per cent), besides other smaller sources.

All you need to know about  “SAFAR”

  • SAFAR stands for System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research.
  • It is an initiative of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences for greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location-specific information on air quality in near real time and its forecast 1-3 days in advance.
  • It was started under the plan scheme Metropolitan Advisories for Cities for Sports, Tourism (Metropolitan Air Quality and Weather Services)
  • The SAFAR system is developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, along with ESSO partner institutions namely India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF)
  • The implementation of SAFAR is done with an active collaboration with local municipal corporations and various local educational institutions and governmental agencies in that Metro city.
  • It was started on a Pilot basis in the cities of Pune, Ahmadabad, New Delhi and Mumbai.

Way ahead

  • The battle against air pollution is long and difficult, but success is achievable beyond doubt.
  • Putting green curtains around construction sites, regularly sprinkling water on truck tyres and debris before loading and unloading material, and ensuring smooth traffic flow to overcome snarls are some of the immediate remedies.
  • In the medium term, transitioning to electric vehicles, addressing solid waste management, dumping grounds, and industrial toxin management are some actions that will help us achieve better air quality.


  • Before we start to address the problem, we need to recognise it. Acting together and strengthening the fight against air pollution should be the order of the day. The situation is not currently urgent, but it is a clear early sign of the impact climate change can have. Hence, we must address the root cause of the problem anthropogenic emissions instead of looking for shortcuts.

Mains question

Q. Anthropogenic emissions are central to environmental issues, whether climate change or air quality. Give examples to support your arguments.

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