Mumbai air quality: MPCB cites inaccurate readings to pull down Central govt's own SAFAR monitors

Monitoring stations will be reintegrated into the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board portal once recalibration and repositioning work has been done

Representational photo of skyscrapers engulfed in dense smog amid rising air pollution (photo: Getty Images)
Representational photo of skyscrapers engulfed in dense smog amid rising air pollution (photo: Getty Images)

NH National Bureau

In a week when Mumbai’s poor air quality has gone to rival some of the worst cities in the world, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has decided to temporarily remove nine city-based SAFAR (System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research) air quality monitoring stations from its parent organisation, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) portal.

This decision follows concerns over the reliability of Air Quality Index (AQI) readings generated by the SAFAR monitors, managed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

In a significant move aimed at rectifying inaccuracies in air quality monitoring, the MPCB formally communicated its decision to the CPCB and submitted a detailed report outlining the inaccuracies detected in the readings provided by the SAFAR monitors.

The MPCB initiated this action about a week ago by writing to the CPCB, requesting the temporary removal of these monitors due to calibration issues and the incorrect positioning of some of the devices, which did not align with CPCB guidelines. In response to the request, the CPCB had requested the MPCB to substantiate its claims with evidence, and on Thursday, the MPCB submitted a comprehensive report detailing the discrepancies.

Dr. Avinash Dhakne, the member secretary of MPCB, told the media that they conducted tests at all nine locations where IITM monitors are located and found inaccuracies in the readings. “This was creating confusion and panic among citizens.” He emphasised that the monitoring stations will be reintegrated into the CPCB portal once the recalibration and repositioning work is completed.

Notably, while the SAFAR data on the CPCB portal is expected to be temporarily removed, the SAFAR app will continue to function independently and display air quality data. Dr. Dhakne clarified that this data falls outside the MPCB's purview, and he refrained from commenting on it.

As of now, Mumbai relies on a total of 23 Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS) to assess air quality. Among these, 14 monitoring stations are managed by the MPCB, while the IITM oversees the remaining nine. With the temporary removal of the nine SAFAR stations from the CPCB portal, the MPCB aims to enhance the accuracy and reliability of air quality data in the region, assuring citizens of more dependable information about the air they breathe.

Last week, the city witnessed a staggering surge in the air quality index, soaring to 171, as reported by the air quality tracking authority IQ Air. This figure, a staggering 19 times higher than the annual air quality guideline recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), underscores a grave concern.

The alarming spike in particulate matter 2.5, minuscule airborne particles notorious for their associations with lung cancer and heart disease, can be squarely attributed to extensive large-scale construction projects that have not only exacerbated traffic congestion but also elicited a firm statement from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, on 20 October.

This surge in pollution is further pinned on the doorstep of climate change, and the prevailing weather conditions and rising pollution levels have forced the BMC to take decisive action. It has mandated construction sites to be shrouded by towering 35-foot-high (11-meter) sheets to contain dust staunchly.

The construction sites must further deploy sprinklers, dousing the area "at least four to five times" daily, effectively curbing dust dispersion. The city administration has issued a stern warning, clarifying that construction sites failing to adhere to these stringent dust and pollution control measures could face an imminent shutdown.

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