By Ipsita Dash
Bhubaneswar: If the Air Pollution levels are taken into consideration as indicators to gauge the state of economy, then Odisha has got some good news. The Air Pollution levels in the major cities of the state have witnessed a slight rise in the month of May when compared to the month of April – a month which witnessed total lockdown due to the Covod-19 pandemic.
Though the increase in the air pollution levels are not so alarming, they are much below the pre lockdown period and slightly more than the first phase of the lockdown from march 22 to April 30th.
The figures for the month of May show an upward trend in the air pollution levels in most of the cities of Odisha. It is due to the opening up of the lockdown restrictions and easing of restrictions for the movement of vehicles. Industrial activity also gained momentum in the month of May thereby contributing to the pollution levels. The industrial town of Angul, which saw an improvement in the Air Quality Index (AQI) from 88 (PM10) during the normal period of 1st March 2020 to 21st March 2020, to 56 (PM10) during the first ten days of lockdown from 22nd March to 31st March, saw the index at 76 (PM10) during the month of May. It indicates that the industrial activity is gaining momentum in the state.
Likewise, Paradip and Kalinganagar have also recorded increase in the pollution levels to a considerable level indicating there is revival of industrial activity. While air pollution levels in Paradip have risen to the pre lockdown period ( March 1st to March 21st) from 101 to 106 (PM10), Kalinganagar recorded an AQI of 95 when compared to 122 during the pre lockdown period.
Capital city Bhubaneswar also added slightly to the air quality during the month of May. In the month of April 2020 the AQI was 45 and was included in the Category of Good, is now having an AQI of 52 and the category has been lowered to Satisfactory. Cuttack and Berhampur reported an AQI of 55 and 30 in the Month of May 2020 respectively which was 57 and 33 in the month of April 2020. Industrial cities of Talcher, Jharsuguda, Keonjhar, Rajgangpur and Rourkela also witnessed an increase in the air pollution levels during the month of May when compared to the month of April 2020 although they are far lower that the pre-lockdown period.
Konark, Rayagada and Sambalpur cities saw a further improvement in the air pollution levels as data recorded shows that the AQI has improved further in these cities when compared to the month of April 2020.
If the data released by the pollution control board is analyzed to see a relationship with the industrial activity, then it can be said that the comeback in the levels is because Odisha is experiencing a changeover to normalcy slowly. Also, the as the situation normalizes, the pollution levels are likely to increase.
The cleaner air pollution levels have resulted in clearer skies and an improvement in pollution related health hazards. The enforcement of lockdown has a positive impact on the environment and also reduced incidents related to air pollution. While there is a need for balance between industrialisation and sustainable environment, the lockdown has taught us that we can bring in a balance and also without impacting the livelihoods.
The need of the hour is to think of a world where there is a balance between the human needs and exploiting the resources of nature. Also, a balance has to be maintained between the livelihood pursuits and preservation of climate in the times to come. It can only be achieved if we take steps earnestly and have a foresight.
The improved air pollution levels after the lockdown need to be studied and can guide us in changing our perspective while devising strategies of development. The improvements in the pollution parameters have been welcomed by all. According to Keshab Chandra Dehury, a senior citizen from Angul, “we are seeing a change in the environment ever since the lockdown was imposed. Being an industrial area, we had maximum air pollution levels. But since late March we are happy that the situation improved. But we are also seeing that a large number of migrant labourers are sitting idle now a days as the factories are closed.” This shows that we have to balance between the resources and our needs.
Another aspect of the lockdown and its impact is improved health conditions. According to Chinmaya Khatua, a resident of Capital City Bhubaneswar, “I am an asthmatic. I take medications and use inhaler for my lungs. But in the last three months, I can feel that my problem has subsided much. Even, I have stopped using the inhaler now a days. This has resulted in savings also. I hope the pollution levels continue like this.”
The link between unchallenged industrialisation and the pursuit for livelihoods has a direct impact on the environment. Governments at the helm need to devise strategies that aim at sustainability of the environment. While Covid-19 has taught us that human greed has no value in front of the nature, we have to face it with improved vigor. Sustainable development, permanent livelihood solutions and preservation of climate are the three issues that will dictate the direction of the governance.
The author is a Mumbai-based professional.