Mumbai: ‘City of Dreams’ Is Sinking Its Climate Ship

Around a week ago, Mumbai made it to the headlines; the reason was the city saw an all-time high in the temperature – Over 40 degrees Celsius. However, this was not the first jolt. Only weeks ago, the city was also named among the world’s ten most polluted cities.

By Team Mojo, 21 Mar 2023

Representative Image

Alarms, triggers, floods, heat waves, and protests have time and again identified the climate battle that the financial capital of the country ‘Mumbai’ has been battling for decades now. However, regimes have failed to address the issues and the geographical positioning of the city has made the situation even more inevitable.

Between 1980 and 2018, the city has lost around 58 percent of its limited land owing to floods and landslides. Every year, the streets are flooded with water, many people succumb to the aggressive rainfall and several lose their homes.

NGOs, environmentalists, and netizens have been protesting, raising their voice against the development programs that have added to the impact of climate change but all in vain.

Some locations are more exposed to climate risk than others, and coastal mega cities like Mumbai are threatened by both extreme weather and increasing sea levels.

By 2050, the majority of the world’s population will reside in metropolitan areas, and as their populations grow, the paving over of permeable soil for buildings and roads further raises the risk of floods.

Mumbai is no stranger to the ‘Monsoon Fury’ that news headline writers like to refer to, like the rest of India. More than twice as much rain falls in the city each year—94 inches on average—than in New York, and the majority of it falls during the four-month rainy season.

The city and its citizens have been preparing for the monsoon for years by emptying municipal drains and patching leaking roofs, among other preventative steps. The season has historically been characterised by train service interruptions, an increase in water-borne illnesses, and sporadic landslides and building collapses.

Mumbai residents have put up with these risks in return for the business opportunities provided by India’s commercial metropolis. Whether it’s a terrorist attack or a flood, locals are bold enough to return to work right after following a tragedy.

This year while the conditions worsened, Mojo Story tried to understand the roots of the problems, and what situation the city could be in 2023.

In a conversation with Mr. D. Stalin, an environmentalist and Director of Vanashakti, he outlayed what all should have been done, and what situation the city would be in this year and the years to come.

“Mumbai’s temperature will cross 42° this summer. We at Vanashakti have recorded 41° already (you can see the recording on my Facebook page). This is because of the insensitivity and mindless approach of the urban development department which is engaged in activities directed towards making Mumbai’s environment worse. Adding dust, SPM through constitutional activities that don’t follow pollution norms.” He further added how these activities create traffic jams that add carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and toxins through vehicles idling away.

In The Name Of Urban Development?

Almost all the environmentalists that the reporter spoke to, had one common thing to stress upon. In the name of urban development, chopping down of trees left, right, and centre in the city, harming the only green belt of Aarey forest that the city has, regimes have created the perfect recipe for a polluted atmosphere that will continually warm the city.

Although the previous government of Maharashtra did come up with a climate action plan, and the plan was publicised a lot. The environmentalists who have been working on the same issues highlight how the plan has failed to include the basic essence required.

“There is no mud left to absorb heat, all spaces have been concretized and these surfaces act as heat reflectors and keep the atmosphere hot all the while. No effort is made to protect the existing tree cover, even wetlands, and lakes are being concretized and turned into concrete water tanks. So there is no heat exchange between land and water. People of Mumbai care two hoots about climate change. It’s all about trying to make money and not paying attention to the destruction unfolding around them,” added Stalin.

Another big allegation made by Stalin is that the government on its part does not disclose the real temperature reading.

He said, “The metrology department probably has been told to keep the figures fixed below 40°. People can check independently and know the truth. Mumbai is a frying pan and it’s just getting started, and the worst is yet to come.”

The heat island effect has a major role to play in the case of Mumbai. An urban heat island is an urban or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. The temperature difference is usually larger at night than during the day, and is most apparent when winds are weak.

UHI is most noticeable during the summer and winter. This difference in Mumbai can clearly be felt if one were to visit the area of Palghar, or the Aarey region and then compare the same with that of the completely urbanised area like Andheri or Bandra.

Mumbaikars Considered In Climate Action Plan?

Mumbaikars in the past few years, have seen the local trains being delayed and the frequency of government buses reduced. However, instead of improving the conditions of these public transport, the focus is more on constructing a metro that would not be accessible to the local public.

Yash Marwah, of Let India Breathe spoke to Mojo Story about this in detail. “They say it’s for the development of the common public, but will a Tai who catches fishes and boards a train from Malad be able to carry her fishes in the metro? The scanner in the very beginning will not let it pass.”

The most important people, the ones who face problems on a regular basis and know the Mumbai land; The Dabbawalas, Kolis who live by the coast were nowhere considered when the government was planning out a climate action plan, narrated Marwah.

“Most of the urban development and real estate projects are all coming at the cost of ecological exclusion.” He added.

The former govt when proposed a climate action plan, it was published widely, and the govt even managed to get appreciation saying that something of this scale had not been done for any other city in the past. However, environmentalists working on the ground for years see it differently.

“To start with, Mumbai saw its major floods between 2002-06, so if you look at it, the plan itself is 16 years late,” said Marwah.

As per him, the plan looks artificial in its very nature and does not seem like a practical approach for a city like Mumbai, especially when the plan was delayed already.

“One major thing that stays missing from the plan, something that should have been included is the mass awareness campaigns, a space where the general public could be informed of the dos and don’ts on a regular basis. This would help create awareness and reduce the impact pushed by the human force. We cannot do anything majorly about the water level and the flow, but this would at least reduce the man-made problems.”

With the scale of urban development and the condition where the city is today, what worries environmentalists like Yash is not the situation in which Mumbai is today, it’s more about what model it is setting for the rest of the country.

“I am worried that Bhopal will become like this. I am worried that Indore might be urbanised to an extent where it becomes somewhere close to this.” He added.

NGOs, individuals and the common people were not made stakeholders of the discussions that happened before the preparation of this plan against Climate Change. Had they been made so, the plan could have shaped better. All the environmentalists who were spoken to say that they made several attempts to get in touch with the government, tried being a part of the discussions but were not allowed to do so.