Air quality on day of Janta Curfew

The biggest impact of the Janta Curfew in my opinion may be in demonstrating to the average Mumbaikar and policy makers and media the efficacy of forcibly shutting down the city (read cars on roads) on days of severe air pollution.

In a television debate a month back on ET Now, which was in response to an exceptionally bad AQI over a few days in Mumbai I had raised a number of important points along with the other panelists. One of the most important was at the end asking for a Graded Response Action Plan being rolled out ASAP to counter such events.

At 12:20 I comment on the terrible coast road project.

17:15 onwards on whether Metro will solve the problem and about Climate Change

What is GRAP? It is a series of decisions to be taken based on the severity of the AQI. Read this article from Delhi where this measure has been first initiated.

In context of Mumbai the first such response would be a radical curtailment of vehicles on the roads on days of bad AQI, thus effectively calling for a partial or total shutdown. This would not hurt the economy as much as it would be made out to be and would not halt the movement of trains and buses. The bottom of the pyramid which has been most impacted during the corona crisis would be least affected in this case since they anyways do not use cars. Those affected would be individuals who only travel by cars and that segment can sit home and relax as they are doing now. And not be impacted financially in anyways.

Why should it require a virus to understand such a point?

Janta curfew adds to the evidence that the economy and the people are so much better off with severe curbs on private vehicles, which are a few peoples convenience and everyone’s (including those few) inconvenience.

Bad AQI in Mumbai is invariably the result of atmospheric conditions. The sum total of emissions spewed out by the 2.5 million odd vehicles on Mumbai’s roads remains a constant on any given day. Whether the emissions will result in bad AQI is a function of temperature, wind, humidity and other such factors.

Beyond the complex details, there are days when the atmospheric conditions support the flushing out of these toxic emissions and there are other days when the atmospheric conditions do not support the flushing out and instead allow the emissions to accumulate over the city thus exposing the whole population to a very deadly cocktail of pollutants.

It is for days like this that a Graded Response Action Plan needs to roll out as per a pre-decided drill which is known to every citizen and agreed upon. The foremost of these measures would be a radical curb on private motorized transport, the number one cause of emissions in the city. What is my data source for this claim? How do I validate? A day like Janta Curfew helps make the point without having to be burdened with counter arguments asking one to validate claims. The same city that sees unsatisfactory to poor range most times saw crisp air quality. The only difference was no vehicles on the roads. I can pull in a lot of data from existing studies but the idea is to keep it simple and common sense.

AQI on 22.03.2020, day of Janta curfew

Atmospheric scientists know with a fair deal of accuracy in advance about days when the conditions will not be viable for a flushing out. It is the role of the policy makers lead by the Mayor and the Municipal Commissioner, which needs to make advance announcement of days when there would be severe curbs on movement of cars on the roads.

https://www.windy.com/-Embed-widget-on-page/widgets?19.119,72.924,11

If impact on the economy is a fear then those days which coincide with a Sunday or close about can easily be considered. There are easily 10 days during the winter when the severity is enough to classify the impact as a severe health risk. A GRAP determined forced shutdown would make a radical difference on those 10 days and give enormous relief to vulnerable segments.

And we do not need much resources to control cars on the roads. Singapore and London have done it all with the considerable support from Indian IT companies. You need ERP gantries on all important junctions and every car which crossed those on the red listed days would be charged Rs. 1000 per crossing or something like that. There are enough in the city for whom that is loose change and instead of that loose change going to alcohol companies and lifestyle it will be made available for a dedicated transport fund which would invest in public transport and overcoming deficits.

How serious is the problem of air pollution for Mumbai?

That question should not need an answer. Other panelists Bhagwan Kesbhat and Vivek Chattopadhyay very well explained but the answer has been available for more than two decades. I am reminded of the Vinay Mohan Lal Committee more than two decades back and the number of measures taken and suggested. Since then a huge growth in vehicles, increased size of the city and an enormous increase in the number of kilometers traveled per day has wiped out and over ridden any gains.

Poor air quality impacts everybody and is a clear and present danger at all times unlike corona situation which is a once in a while passing storm. I have been calling the panic around corona a tamasha. If public health really was of concern then the public and the authorities acting on their behalf would have been doing so much more on real issues which matter. The mortality from poor air quality or more importantly DALY is far more serious an issue.

But GRAP is not enough.

The overall thinking and planning carried out by the government institutions which govern the city makes a difference. MMRDA and MCGM are the two cash rich city bodies which do two things, make policy and spend money. In both these aspects they have taken the worst kind of decisions over the past two decades. Decisions which have only lead to more motorised transport and result in poor AQI, which in turn necessitates GRAP. These are issues which have been discussed threadbare by numerous planners, policy makers and activists over the years. Everyone of them has warned of the consequences of the misdirected thinking of those who govern. Whether the decline of support to the public bus service or investments in projects like the coastal road or absence of UMTA and parking policy and much more.

At moments like the corona virus the Municipal Commissioner is seen and portrayed as a hero by the media. Any questioning at such a point would be (and would be seen as) inappropriate. But I don’t see any such discussions in non-crisis which holds decision makers accountable. Who will analyse the decisions taken over the past two decades? Bureaucrats and Mayors are unapproachable and consider themselves above panelists who appear and contribute for discussions.

The public on its part is a herd by now with little knowledge and inclination. The average educated elite persons political discourse, its vocabulary and syllabus is so limited as to make it impossible to engage them on such issues. They can only bang utensils (or be critical of such measures) and clap for the services of those who address the symptoms and are clueless about those who go after the underlying malaise. And they hold their views with fervour and self-righteousness. The political and administrative class couldn’t be happier.

Essential services?

People only understand post facto measures as essential. Doctors and nurses attending to patients. I would argue that the work I and my limited ilk does is far more essential and important but it goes poorly appreciated and rewarded. A lung physician at a top hospital in the city will rake in crores as income dealing with the problem and have properties and investments but as an activist dealing with preventing the problem I can never be sure of being able to pay myself a stable salary or run my small NGO or salaries of staff, far less own multiple properties as investments.

In 2015 I had written a blog called Equal Budgets for Equal Streets, which was then carried as an article in Times of India, Mumbai Edition. The article was in the context of the Equal Streets event (for which I was one of the early contributor and organiser)

Article in Time of India, December 2014

Urban transport policy has been an integral part of my efforts as an activist over the same past two decades. But that is not the only area of involvement intricately linked with air quality. My successful efforts at saving large tracts of mangrove forests beginning from my immediate neighborhood in the beginning of the last decade was pivoted on the argument of better air quality and flood mitigation.

Then there is the issue of solid waste management. The city has been following a ruinous model of pick and dump soaked in corruption and malpractices. The garbage burns on the dumps and millions of litres of diesel is burnt annually to transport all that waste. Again enormous contributions by some of us but the same Municipal Commissioners (office not individual) who are seen as heroes in such crises take all the wrong decisions and insidiously and invisibly cause slow damage over a decade.

Now on cars

Cars are drawing away the essential vitality of our urban areas. Any arguments to curb their use are seen as anti-development and Luddite in India. All while the world is moving ahead. Instead of designing a next generation of cities we are neither here nor there. Cars are private goods whose profits go to a few while the negative effects are borne by everyone. Those negative effects need to be priced just like one would fine spitting or urinating in public. Road space is a public space owned by everyone and anyone who uses more of it should more for it. Parking policy is scoffed at but people cannot be taking up public space without paying for it. Similarly cars in motion are causing congestion and air pollution and need to be fined for it. In the past few days BEST – the public bus service has seen a rapid improvement in its turnaround time because there is less traffic. If a bus can turn around in 30 mins rather than 60 mins it can do two rounds and transport twice the number of people. We need more people transported per hour not cars.

Cars and air pollution are bigger dangers than corona virus. Hope the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister will be looking into this post the corona storm.

Our bad air quality and Indo-Pak relations and what it says about us?

I got out of office earlier. In the day ending light conditions I could manage to see the horrible haze in Andheri at around 6pm on the New Link Road housing Infinity mall. I guess it must be the same around the city. Had I been travelling an hour later a dark skyline would have hidden the haze.

It was a repulsive sight raising concerns about the impact on collective health and our priorities. I was in a taxi on a call I could not keep aside and hence did not stop to take the photos.

Shamelessly opportunistic thoughts came to my mind riding on a recent big talking point in our country. I began linking the recent Shiv Sena misbehaviour with Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni and the high security having to be provided to Mr. Kasuri and the event around his book release.

I wish Mr. Fadnavis and others would take a “principled stand” on air pollution and public health. I which this could become as big a talking point as Indo-Pakistan ties, disturbance in which hardly takes any lives as compared to bad air.

Its great to have good relations between India and Pakistan but far more important is to ponder why citizens in both countries are not concerned about the most basic of issues affecting them and demanding better services from their governments? What does it say? And in the indifferent situation when people do speak and take interest what issue(s) is it?

Earlier in the year I highlighted the horrible way in which the resurfacing of Marine Drive was taking place raising criminal amounts of dust and it covered very prominently in the Times of India. I used the occasion to highlight the need for an overall work area management policy in all road infrastructure projects and buildings demolitions and constructions. It is a subject I have been raising concern over forever having written on other occasions on my blog.

I have stopped expecting any body – individual or institution – to read those kind of news reports and get in touch to support in any way or at the bare minimum such reports or videos or images to become a great talking point in the city like the recent fracas. I took a number of shocking videos of the resurfacing and the number of views it got are there to see.

Not to forget half a dozen other interventions to improve air quality beginning with improved public transport.

Far more people are dying from bad air than with any violence with Pakistan. Cardiovascular diseases have a strong linkage with air quality and lung conditions. Which means that a lot of deaths being registered as cardio vascular failure have been exasperated due to air pollution leading to mortality. But that can never become a talking point. Sena speared oil paint on Mr. Kulkarni and air pollution smears far more tar and other toxics on the lungs of millions. I wonder whether Mr. Udhav Thackeray is ever concerned about the state of the lungs of Mumbai’s citizens and the condition of which can be linked to the kind of decisions his party takes in the municipal corporation.

Where should be the focus of intellectuals and activists and concerned citizens?

In the end it does say something about how to garner public attention towards attaining political power. It is because people give a damn to real issues or have become too numb that there is a need to have such fracas and stunts. Talking sense on important public issues in straight forward ways never got any any body any where.

Work Area Management 1

I have been talking on the need for a Work Area Management policy for Mumbai/MMR for very long and this is my first or so blog post. The government needs to look into the enormous inconvenience faced by people during civil works. Every year has some new requirement, utilities have to be laid, roads have to be repaired or remade. Dust, labour standards, noise, materials management are the four key components and every civic contract (using tax payers money) should abide by policy guidelines.

Two weeks back I raised alarm over the shocking levels of dust from the Marine Drive resurfacing and captured it in a video here, sent a letter and the issue was covered in a newspaper article as well. The video link is here

Marine Drive ToI article Marine Drive dust letter MCGM

The experience captured in pics below is from today. The whole Horniman Circle is being relaid, paver blocks being scooped out and asphalt coming in place. Pictures are below.

Following stands out

1. The existing paver block surface is/was exceptionally good. The case for asaphalt is valid but then paver block surfaces, which are laid out well (and have good ride quality) should be replaced only when the quality starts wearing out. There are hundreds of junctions which are in a bad condition in the city and priority suggests that they should be attended to first.

2. The high level of traffic chaos is evident. The photos do not capture the incessant honking by the vehicles. This leads to point 4.

3. There are high dust levels on the road which is then blown up due to cars and pedestrians entering local establishments as well.

4. The whole work can clearly be carried out in the night since this is a purely commercial area with no residential population which would face disturbance. Work should be carried out in phases and minimal work during day time. The Additional Municipal Commissioner in charge of roads has in one of the news articles remarked that “….constructing or improving roads in Mumbai is like performing a heart surgery on a man who is refusing to even lie down.” There are enough locations where the complete work can be completed between 11pm- 7am. The processes and technology in use currently is clearly outdated and from an altogether different era.

Below is the chaos left over from the Reliance JIO optic fibre work across the city. Every road and by lane has this kind of a scene. I lodged a complaint on 1916 10 days bak but only got a complaint number and no redressal.

WP_20150401_005 WP_20150401_007 WP_20150401_001 WP_20150401_002 WP_20150401_003 WP_20150401_004

Below is an electricity cable being laid at 9:30 am at junction of S V Road and Amboli i Andheri (W). The work took up almost one lane. Being peak hour it lead to traffic pile up on all sides. Again should be done at night or between 6-8 am.

BEST Amboli-SV Road 2 BEST Amboli-SV Road

Dust in BKC, MMRDA’s paranoia, stupid rules and feudal high handedness in ‘smart’ BKC

Crazy dust levels are a bane in Mumbai, posing severe health hazards besides making the city look no different from the situation in villages and Tier 2 and 3 cities and robbing it of sophistication. This post is about the ridiculous way construction sites are running in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the pride of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and completely governed by them. There is absolute violation of all environmental rules about dust management and how construction sites should operate. Rules and techniques are clearly there to have zero dust around construction sites as I have recorded in photos from Hong Kong in the second part of this post. It is interesting to see how the who’s who and so educated of BKC go about seeing this on a daily basis and do nothing.

Earlier in the year Mumbai Mirror had carried a story Somebody call Bob the builder! on the same subject and I was quoted as under

Mass transport expert and environment activist Rishi Aggarwal says it’s just callousness on the part of various agencies that leads to the kind of mess that Mumbai finds itself today. “There is never going to be a point where a city is done with all development work. But does that mean we will have to put up with this chaos forever? The way out is strict enforcement of norms,” he said.

Today I was invited to give a byte for a video film on Mithi and asked to come to Bandra Kurla Complex. Similarly invited was my friend and free lance journalist Nidhi Jamwal and since we stay close by I joined her in her car. Since we reached a bit early we decided to move around and get the Sunday feel of BKC.

Along the way Nidhi had her first look at the pathetic cycling tracks launched with much fanfare by MMRDA three years back and photographed them. But that is a separate topic of discussion.

Moving towards the Mithi we passed the point on the map shown as BKC 1 where we passed the first dust site and I took photos with a bit of caution because I had already seen the security stir up even seeing the car stop. Moving ahead we came to the road behind the Dhirubhai Ambani School. It is an isolated stretch with very less traffic and here I again saw a large amount of dust and truck trails on the road. This time I was annoyed and decided to get down and record this properly.

Even as I had just started taking the photos a jeep came in from the opposite side filled with 5-6 men. The jeep stopped by our car and the  men started jumping out and rushing in typical intimidating style. They asked me to immediately stop taking photos since photography was strictly prohibited in the area. At this point I got aggressive and asked them who were they and who has made the rules to which they answered that they were security kept by MMRDA  and it is them who has made the rule. Any point about the dust etc. was lost on them as was my shouting that I will be showing these pictures to the Metropolitan Commissioner tomorrow. I decided to call up Mr. Dilip Kawathkar MMRDAs Joint Project Director who confirmed that yes there was a prohibition on taking photos and permissions have to be taken from a certain Mr. Wankhede who I presume is the person mentioned here and here

This is bizarre and nothing short of feudal. This is a public property and the streets can certainly not be part of a photography prohibition. As a citizen activist I am continuously taking photos of the governments negligence in providing even the most basic of infrastructure and amenities to the citizens. This helps in redresal. Now even photos cant be taken?! Dereliction of duty in the first place and intimidation if documenting it.

And then you see these kind of cheesy stories on Smart BKC? Hong Kong also has rapacious capitalists but they have some interest in a clean and well managed HK.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/bkc-is-mumbais-new-smart-address-says-boman-rustom-irani/articleshow/42324892.cms

Or these pies in the sky – talking cake when people dont have bread.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/MMRDA-to-tap-tech-for-smart-BKC/articleshow/33625023.cms

Firstly the way the men were traveling and the intimidating manner in which they approached me is completely unbecoming of how an agency like MMRDA should be keeping security people for any purpose. They looked more like the goons and henchmen kept by illegal mining barons or like some militia of the kind of ISIS images we are seeing on TV. Knowing the land politics of BKC and the politicians-developer nexus which controls it, it is quite clear that institutions are just a nice front to show behind which feudal diktats and controls operate.

Secondly,what is this nonsense about not photographing even on the roads? In July I was hauled up by the ultra-paranoid security at the US Consulate even as I was standing on the footpath outside their building and photographing the diamond bourse with the upcoming convention center in the foreground. Nothing to do with the consulate, nor were they in the frame anywhere but still I was brought in by the security, made to sit for an hour while procedure and deletion of photos took place.

In 2012 I visited Hong Kong for the first time and took photos of the West Kowloon Terminus from a nearby skywalk, which I have carried subsequently in this post. Not once was I stopped, there just was no intimidation in the air. I could see police and guards at some frequency but their job was not to intimidate common citizens. The Peoples Republic of China was not paranoid in spite of being an autocracy and here we have MMRDA – quite symptomatic of the bogus two paisa democracy that India is. This is of course the private estate of some of the best known politicians and builders in the city.

I will stand vindicated when the next big terrorist attack takes place successfully at BKC in spite of all this ridiculous paranoia, intimidation and assault on liberty. As I keep mentioning to all these people that those who will do the damage will have the best of images taken without these jokers even getting a whiff. Of course the innocent will suffer with no effect on these jokers but then did somebody say something about how evil benefits from the silence of the good?

Thirdly, anybody interested in labour rights and the conditions of construction workers need not be holding up for whats happening in Qatar

Woes of India’s Labour in Gulf

Sushma Swaraj vows to work for migrant Indian workers in Gulf nations

Sushma Swaraj could well come and champion for the rights of those who are working at the sites in BKC and especially the large one near the concrete plant marked as BKC 3 in the map below.

Labour could be seen living and working in the most unhygienic and completely unpleasant surroundings. Forget getting into private areas, BKC is completely under MMRDA and consequently Government of Maharashtra jurisdiction. I this the commitment to the various conventions and policies that GoM is party to? We were moving around in an AC car so we are unaffected but the moment you step out is hell.

This is how they do it in Hong Kong. This is the site of West Kowloon Terminus which I visited in March 2012. This a government of China project contracted to private engineering firms. The highest work area management standards could be seen as borne in pictures below.

Take the issue up and make noise about work area management rules at all construction sites. Making Mumbai dust free is possible if only citizens are interested in such an outcome.

And if you can take some more