While quarantine is the way of life now for every Indian, and the social and economic costs incalculable, there is a silver lining to the cloud: a massive drop in pollution levels as can be seen from the Air Quality Index (AQI) readings since the day of Janta Curfew.
The AQI is an index for reporting daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents very poor air quality.
The AQI in the ITO area in New Delhi, which was in the severe category as on March 2, has now fallen to levels of 213 that is in the poor category. Of course, that is not saying much, but nevertheless, an improvement. For the Lodhi Road area, it was down from 230 levels to 133 levels since the lockdown has started.
Similar is the case for Mumbai, where AQI in the Worli area, which is both a residential and business area. The AQI levels have fallen from 287 at the beginning of the month to as low as 80 as on March 26. In Colaba, AQI levels have fallen from 92 to 55 as of March 26.
Pune AQI levels have also improved substantially, from 184 at the beginning of March to as low as 34 since the lockdown has been announced. Pune has been one of the areas where quite a few COVID-19 cases were detected and has been under lockdown since.
For Chennai, AQI levels have fallen from levels of 135 to 35. Even in Kolkata, AQI levels fell from as high as 310 to 151.
For some of the industrial areas, case in point Ankleshwar, which hosts various chemical companies, one of the biggest contributors to pollution. The areas have seen AQI levels falling to 94 which is the satisfactory bar, down from a high of 256 at the start of the month. However, in the coal fields of Talcher, it appears as though the lockdown has not been enforced rigorously. The AQI levels there have been around 300 through this month so far.
There is no denying the havoc that COVID-19 has wreaked across the globe. And yet it has given some respite to our much-abused environment to heal itself. If some of the lessons from the crisis are taken to heart, our relation with the environment could change meaningfully.