Shutdown of the Indian Economy due to COVID-19 Causes Drastic Environmental Changes

By Saarang Kashyap

While the shutdown of the Indian economy was designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has also had a positive impact on the environment and health of Indian citizens. The lockdown order shut down offices, schools, movie theaters, malls, markets, and “non-essential” service providers. All modes of public transport, such as metro trains, buses, inter-state trains, and domestic and international flights for civilian movement have also been stopped, according to Quartz.

Since the March 25th lockdown that forced around 1.3 billion Indians into their houses, the air quality in New Delhi has dropped to “satisfactory levels.” Jordan Davidson, from EcoWatch, stated that on March 20, the air had an unhealthy 91 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. On March 27, few days into the lockdown, that level fell to 26 micrograms per cubic meter. CNN reported that according to the World HealthOrganization, anything above 25 is considered unsafe. Recently, as construction, transport, and factories have come to a halt, Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has fallen below 20, a huge improvement in the air quality of one of India’s most polluted cities.

Wildlife abundance has also increased during this halt in Indian economics. Due to reduced pollution in the water, South Asian River Dolphins have been spotted again in the Ganges after 30 years. Tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Navi Mumbai, a profound change in migration in comparison to previous years. The Ganga is finally fit for drinking in Haridwar after chlorination, as the drainage of industrial waste into the river has stopped, bringing a significant change in the quality of the water.

So how can India’s economy sustain this unprecedented recession while remaining environmentally friendly?

Investing in sustainable infrastructure may be the answer. Data from the 2008-09 financial crisis show that South Korea, which directed nearly 70% of its stimulus towards green measures, rebounded faster than other economies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). India should increase its backing behind renewable energy, particularly solar power that can help spread critical services in remote regions. Similarly, increasing electrification and public transport after COVID-19 will be critically important to reduce air pollution.