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Mumbai: Half-baked approach to reducing pollution

Updated on: 08 December,2023 05:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Lack of concrete policy ensures wood-burning bakeries, which impact air quality, still thrive

Mumbai: Half-baked approach to reducing pollution

Guidelines issued in October assigned responsibility to civic bodies to mitigate pollution at bakeries, among other sites. File Pic/Ashish Raje

Key Highlights

  1. BMC has the authority to act against wood-burning bakeries
  2. In the end, the buck is just passed on from one department to the other
  3. In the past few days, L ward has served notices to at least 13 polluting bakeries

While the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has the authority to act against wood-burning bakeries, numerous officials have said that such measures require collaboration and the involvement of multiple departments, which can lead to backlogs. In the end, the buck is just passed on from one department to the other.

In the past few days, L ward has served notices to at least 13 polluting bakeries. “The problem has been around for a while. This year, in total, we have taken action against 34 bakeries,” said Nitin Kamble, an official from BMC’s building and factories department.  The action taken includes collaboration between the water department, health department, and electricity department. “Many permissions are needed to be checked before classifying the activities of any unit as illegal. Once it is determined they are illegal, every department starts taking action. Their water supply is cut off or their polluting chimneys are demolished,” he said.

Wood woes

In the past, BMC officials have stated that there are at least 500 bakeries in the city. Many of them still use wood, as opposed to electricity or clean fuel, as required by BMC’s air pollution mitigation plan, released in March. Even as recently as October, the state government issued guidelines for air pollution mitigation where the responsibility for bringing down pollution levels at construction sites, crematoria and bakeries was assigned to the municipal corporations in the state.

Along with that, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) issued letters to BMC to implement the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in winter to curb air pollution. Under this, officials were to ensure that such bakeries shift to clean fuel. “The health department is also involved in it, and a committee was set up to design a policy in this matter, but it has not moved forward much,” said a ward-level medical officer of health.

mid-day recently highlighted how smoke emanating from Central Bakery in Madanpura in E ward has brought health hazards for residents in the area. “The health and building and factories departments are empowered to take action against them,” said an official from the environment department. 

No survey done

Meanwhile, officials in E ward said so far, no survey has been done to determine the number of bakeries in the area that are functioning without prior permission. “Procuring an NOC from the MPCB is the first step for such bakeries to function, and very little can be done when these bakeries have them,” said Abrar Khan, assistant engineer, building and factories department in E ward. On the other hand, MPCB officials are firm in their stand. “Bakeries came under the MPCB in 2016, and before that, there was no need for our NOC,” said an MPCB official, adding that many of these polluting bakeries are the ones that existed before 2016. 

Many bakery owners claim their establishments are heritage sites. “This creates more complications,” Khan said. There is also a matter of huge expenses in shifting to clean fuel or electricity. BMC’s executive health official Dr Daksha Shah said the issue of wood-burning bakeries was picked up some months ago, and it is still in the planning stage. “A circular will be issued with time,” she said. The health department had reached out to ward-level officials for data on polluting bakeries; however, no further details were shared with mid-day regarding the same.

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