The Lockdown Has Done What No Govt Could: Gave Us Clean Air & Turned Ganga Water Fit for Drinking


The Lockdown Has Done What No Govt Could: Gave Us Clean Air & Turned Ganga Water Fit for Drinking

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

There’s probably just one upside to us staying in – nature is bouncing back. The air is so clean these days that Burj Khalifa is visible from Hyderabad, dinosaurs are roaming in Dal Lake, and one can see Canada from Punjab. That’s an internet joke as old as the lockdown. However, the air is definitely purer and recent data by the US space agency NASA suggests that pollution in the northern part of India has plummeted to a 20-year-low.

The agency’s satellite sensors have observed that aerosol levels are at a 20-year-low post the lockdown. “We knew we would see changes in atmospheric composition in many places during the lockdown,” said Pawan Gupta, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “But I have never seen aerosol values so low in the Indo-Gangetic Plain at this time of year,” added Gupta.

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs shared images taken by NASA each spring starting in 2016, showing a 20-year low in airborne particle levels over India. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells said, “When India and the world are ready to work and travel again, let’s not forget that collaborative action can result in cleaner air.”

Not all NASA images are fake, if there’s one we want to proudly forward on WhatsApp groups, these are the ones.

Lower air pollution has also meant clear skies and some picturesque views, one being a rather rare view of the Hazratbal shrine and the Hari Parbat Fort with the Pir Panjal range of mountains in the backdrop seen from Srinagar.

And it is not only our air that is cleaner, but our water bodies are cleansing themselves. The Ganga is so clean that the water  at Har-ki-Pauri in the holy city of Haridwar is fit for drinking for the first time in decades. Fish and other marine life can now be seen in the water and the ghats. The water quality of the river near Uttar Pradesh has also improved.

The government has reportedly spent 7,000 crore to clean the river but the results have been disappointing. “What ‘Namami Gange’, the Centre’s flagship programme to clean the Ganga, couldn’t achieve in several years, nature has done in three weeks,” an article in The Wire pointed out.

Videos of the Ganga flowing in all its glory have been shared by many users on social media. As Praveen Kaswan, working with the Indian Forest Service pointed out, this could well be a blueprint on how to clean a river: Don’t throw waste in it and let the river maintain its ecological flow.

The coronavirus pandemic has had severe consequences on the economy, but it has also shown us that saving Planet Earth is within reach.