Mumbai: In a first for Maharashtra, four different urban local bodies (ULBs) have come together to work on air pollution abatement, following what is known as an “airshed management” approach to tackling the problem.

These include Thane, Navi Mumbai, Badlapur, and Ulhasnagar, which are working together with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MCPB), MCGM Centre for Municipality Research (Powai) and the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) to better implement the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) under a pilot project known as the ‘Maharashtra Clean Air Accelerator’.

A senior official in the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) said on the condition of anonymity, “These four ULBs together have not spent even 10% of funds under the National Clean Air Program (NCAP). And the MPCB itself cannot implement any interventions, other than increasing air quality monitors. The main issue is that we are a regulatory body, meant to ensure that industries are complying with various environmental laws. The capacity and technical expertise required to tackle air pollution is actually lacking at both the MPCB’s regional level and among ULBs. So, a collaborative approach will help both of us. Both MCMR and ISC will be steering the pilot, which can hopefully be reproduced for other airsheds in Maharashtra.”

Vivek Adhia, country director, ISC, explained that an airshed refers to the volume of air over a particular geographic region. “Because the region shares a common flow of air, it becomes uniformly polluted due to emissions which enter the airshed either through local activities or have been transported from other areas. This phenomenon does not respect administrative boundaries, which is why it is important for all stakeholders in the region, from ULBs to transport departments to urban planning bodies, to work together.”

Since Mumbai already has a dedicated Climate Action Plan, with air pollution a key focus sector, the MPCB, ISC and MCMR have zeroed in on the four mentioned ULBs as they form part of the MMR’s larger air-shed, but lack the institutional capacity that the BMC does, namely a dedicated environment department.

“We worked with MCMR and conducted eight-week workshops in April and June with various nodal officers from different departments in Badlapur, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Ulhasnagar, who are working on air quality, to understand their experiences and needs. As part of the Clean Air Accelerator, we are looking at setting up a common air quality cell for these ULBs, which can coordinate between different departments whose operations impact air pollution, such as transport and urban development,” said Adhia.

The ISC will also be working on facilitating the exchange of knowledge and technology between these ULBs and other expert institutions working in the field of energy, pollution and environment, with a focus on improving fuel efficiency and reducing stack emissions across sectors. These four ULBs are also working with various local real estate bodies to develop a standard operating protocol for the collection, disposal and treatment of construction and demolition waste, which is a huge issue in cities experiencing exponential growth.

Moreover, they will also be working on-demand aggregation solutions to boost the adoption of electric vehicles, under the aegis of Convergence Energy Services Ltd., a venture of The EESL Group, which is owned by the central public sector undertakings under the Ministry of Power, New and Renewable Energy. One option currently under consideration at the ULB level is for all four cities to collectively take stock of commuter volume and movement trends across their administrative limits, and then issue tenders jointly for the procurement of electric buses.

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