It has only been a month since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown, but few could have envisioned how profound its effects on the environment would be.
With factories shuttered, cars off the roads, and public transport halted, India’s skies have cleared up revealing sights that some have never witnessed in their entire lives. In fact, the change was so dramatic, that just a week into the lockdown, NASA satellite sensors recorded that aerosol levels in Northern India had fallen to a 20-year low.
Aerosols are tiny particles that linger in the air reducing visibility, and capable of causing severe respiratory and cardiac complications. Anthropogenic activity like the burning of fossil fuels, and crops emit large amounts of this particulate matter into the air, leaving many of India’s cities, towns and villages clouded in dust and smog, for most of the year.
Its hard to believe that six months ago, levels of air pollution in Delhi were so high, compounded by the seasonal stubble burning that takes place in Punjab and Haryana, that schools had to be shut, and flights diverted. With the Delhi government urging individuals to stay indoors, and wear N95 masks as frequently as possible, in hindsight, it almost seems like a primer for what is currently ensuing.
14 Indian cities feature on the list of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world, with an estimated 1 million Indians dying annually, as a consequence of air-pollution related conditions. Yet, since the lockdown, federal pollution bodies have themselves been taken aback by the remarkable improvement in air quality across 85 of India’s largest cities.
Crises beget change
As dire as the current crisis is, it has offered a tiny glimpse into what a cleaner and greener India could look like. Whether it is enough for governments, central and state, to make bolder and more ambitious pledges towards the clean energy transition remains to be seen, but there is some precedent for this abroad.