by Nishant Tiwari 27 August 2020
Due to forced restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of pollution in cities across the country dropped dramatically in a few days, magnetizing discussions about the lockdown as the effective alternative measures to implement to control the air pollution.
In 2019, Delhi was ranked as one of the world’s topmost polluted cities. People now breathe the cleanest air, since the time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the lockdown across India. Around the world, there have been positive changes in the environment, some of which were witnessed after decades. However, the improvement in the environment occurred as a result of the lockdown and restricted human activities worldwide, and therefore it is most likely to be short-lived. Once the pandemic subsides, governments will focus on getting factories and businesses back on track and reclaiming the economy. However, if revival is not done consciously, it will be the beginning of another crisis from then on and under such circumstances, we must examine the law framed to combat air pollution.
Indian government enacted specific laws under Article 253 of the Constitution of India, 1950, for the preservation of natural resources, and the law enacted for the preservation of air was the Air (Prevention and Control of Air Pollution) Act, 1981. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that improving air quality in our country is not a matter of choice but an emergency. India has reason to resist the temptation to put clean air in the background, but somewhere, the implementation of the given Act has failed miserably in the past.
Air pollution creates medical conditions that severely increase the risk of COVID-19 deaths. The Air (Prevention and Control of Air Pollution) Act, 1981 is the platform that should be used to combat air pollution as an emergency, with a framework for coordination between different levels of government. Similar coordination will be required at the international level to continue working towards reducing emissions under the Paris Agreement.
Leaders like former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that a crisis was an opportunity and thus, we can take benefit out of the COVID-19 crisis as well. We must remember that the pollution will return in much worse shape if we ignore the investment required to clean up our air, water, and land. After COVID-19, we must understand that a growing economy needs to respect the carrying capacity of nature. By ignoring that, we have already made our cities unliveable with excessive pollution and population, making us even more vulnerable during COVID-19-like pandemics. We are on the threshold of various environmental problems. Lack of environmental planning to expand our economy is already killing millions and will return in much worse shape unless it is accepted and communicated as serious.
As world leaders respond to the coronavirus, they have an opportunity to chart a different course and make a major intervention for a healthy planet and healthy people. A transition to clean, renewable energy and transportation will seriously reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact of future pandemics. The coronavirus pandemic has made it clearer than ever that human and planetary health are closely interconnected. The choice is ours to act accordingly. Also, there has been enough said about ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which means that the entire land and world is a family, and now it is a time to protect and save this family from air pollution.