Four months into the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic in India, mother Earth has surprised us in multiple ways.
Since the imposition of a total lockdown on March 22, humans have been compelled to stay inside their houses. This has meant a small window for the environment to breathe. It involves the unexpected plummeting of air pollution or people being the Himalayas being visible after decades.
Scientists, in fact, are suggesting that such interventions may be used as a possible emergency measure to combat severe air pollution episodes like those witnessed in Delhi-NCR region during the winter months.
On World's Environment Day, let's take a look at how the pandemic and restricted human movements played in favour of the flora and fauna to breathe some clean air.
With humans confined to the houses, animals seem to be getting their much-needed space. While a Nilgai was spotted roaming free on the streets of Noida in March, a group of monkeys were filmed having a pool party in a posh society in Mumbai.
In another incident, visuals of a huge flock of flamingos migrating to Mumbai flooded social media. Forest officials attributed the event to 'less polluted water, air' and also the 'improvement in the quality of the algae', which is the primary food for the flamingos.
While animals have been enjoying free time from human intervention, people from parts of northern India expressed their joy and excitement at having been able to spot the Himalayas from their homes.
Residents of Jalandhar, Punjab woke up to an unprecedented view - the snow-capped Himalayan range, visible to the naked eye in the first week of April, after a noticeable drop in the air pollution level due to restricted transportation and industrial activities. The visibility of the Dhauladhar mountain range in Himachal Pradesh was due to a dip in toxic emission levels that led to clearer skies across the world.
A few days after, residents of Saharanpur woke up to a similar view; to the beautiful sight of the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years.
All of these have been possible due to a sharp drop in the air pollution level. A report in March stated that around 90 cities across India including Delhi. According to the report, environmentalists urged the government to treat this as a "wake-up call" and stop its "obsession" with "development" at the cost of the environment.
Commenting on this, a retired Supreme Court judge who spent three years on the Green Bench of the top court said in an interview to CNN-News18, that “there was lack of will” by the government to do what it takes for cleaner air and clearer water.
The Yamuna River that had left everyone in utter distress in 2019 with white, toxic foam appearing on its surface, appeared clear at people's disbelief. The sight of a clear Yamuna River after years blew the minds of netizens, as social media went abuzz with the "natural healing" of the river water.
Similarly, the Ganga water flowing through Varanasi and Haridwar, has seen a significant improvement in water quality during the lockdown. According to a report, scientists after an observation have claimed that the water quality has seen a remarkable improvement and is even fit for drinking!
With most businesses shut down, transport halted and human movements restricted, on this World's Environment Day it could be agreed upon, "an annual 15-day lockdown by states and union territories to ward off the ill-effects of pollution on air and water."
Recently, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released a report on the effect of 'Janata Curfew' on the air quality in which it found that the reduction in the number of on-road vehicles, resulted in up to 51 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels and 32 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels during March 22-23, 2020 as compared to March 21.
Environmentalists, however, feel that carbon emissions may have reduced drastically but are likely to go back to the pre-corona levels in a few weeks' time, once the virus threat mitigates.
"This is temporary and it is not going to benefit the environment in the long run. From the current crisis, people all over the world are suffering and facing severe hardship, while the percentage of people who can afford to work from the safety of home is not huge," said Avinash Chanchal, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
With inputs from Agencies