Corona View: At one end, Humans are trapped on the other, Nature heals itself

Story Highlights
  • Coronavirus may have adverse effect on humans, but it is helping in curing mother nature
  • In Jalandhar, for example, people could see the Dhauladhar mountain range of Himachal Pradesh, 250 km away, for the first time in 30 years.
  • Amid Lockdown, the skies are blue and the air quality index is in code green in most parts of the country
  • 40-50% Improvement In Ganga's Water Quality Says Expert

Delhi: The lockdown that has shut down humans in their homes, locked industries and stopped the ever running society from its own race, has turned out to be a healer for the Nature that we, humans have exploited to the best of our use. The birds & animals are conquering their own world and blooming with freedom. The stars are more visible, sky has become clearer and rivers have regained their natural color and flow.

Many of India’s rivers currently have clear flows. Aquatic species are reclaiming their legitimate place. The foul smell is not so strong anymore. And all of this has happened without any technological intervention, or even because of the absence of technological intervention.

(Photo: PTI)
River ganga, Assi ghat Varansi (photo: PTI)

Although, the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) had stopped collecting the samples during the lockdown period, but after seeking special permission by the higher authorities, the first sample in the lockdown period was collected on April 9 from different locations, including both upstream and downstream of River Ganga.

JB Singh, Regional officer, UPPCB, shared the results of the collected samples on Friday. The samples have been tested as per the guidelines of National Water Monitoring Programme (NWMP).

According to the reports, the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) level of Ganga at Sangam (the point just before it meets Yamuna) has declined from 2.8mg/l (as recorded on March 13) to 2.4mg/l (as on April 9). Likewise, the same parameter as recorded at Rasulabad ghat (around Five kilometre upstream of Sangam), the BOD level on March 13 was 2.8mg/l which has come down to 2.5mg/l. The permissible limit of BOD in the river water should be less than 3mg/l.

Likewise, the other two vital parameters, which defines the quality of water in the river—the reading of total Coliform and Fecal Coliform—also shows a sharp decline in pollution in the river.

The total coliform in river Ganga at Sangam, as recorded on March 13, was 3400MPN/100ml and the same came down to 2600MPN/100ml during lockdown (on April 9). Similarly, the fecal coliform at Sangam was 1300MPN/100ml on March 13 and it declined sharply at 820MPN/100ml as on April 9. The maximum permissible limit of fecal coliform is 2500MPN.

The quality of water has improved much more. “The BOD at Yamuna was 2.4mg/l prior to lockdown (March 13) while on April 9, it came down to just 2mg/l”, said Singh. The ideal quality of water in Yamuna could be checked by the fact that the fecal coliform in Yamuna has come down to 310MPN from 1300MPN, as recorded pre-lockdown.

“The nature is reviving itself and so is the riven bio-diversity because the effluents being discharged in the river, from industries, have completely stopped and I would even suggest that the government should compulsory introduce the concept of lockdown every Six months so that the environment and water bodies of the country could revive themselves”, said former faculty of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Prof B D Tripathi, who is considered as an authority over Ganga.

The coronavirus pandemic, and India’s subsequent lockdown, offer several lessons in river hydrology, ecological flow, pollution and the role of the community. The increased snow melt combined with lack of industrial production, lower irrigation and commercial use have also contributed to the change.

The Centre’s flagship programme to clean the Ganga, “Namami Gange” couldn’t achieve in several years what nature has done in three weeks.This poses a valid question as of how was the government spending Rs 7,000 crore to clean this river without any positive outcomes?

The greatest flaw in this and similar programmes is that we set out to clean a river system that already works well, just that we keep polluting it with industrial effluents, sewage and plastic. Instead of protecting rivers by blocking pollutants from entering them, we decide to continue polluting them and cleaning them at the same time.

The major setback of these programmes is that the scheme structurally discourages industry and commercial enterprises responsible for polluting the river to do their bit and innovate.

Several environmentalists, academicians, sadhus and other observers point out failures large and small but they don’t seem to have made an impression on polluters.

When a river can clean itself and regain its original flows, the use of tertiary sewage treatment plants (STP), costing several hundred crores of rupees, appears fallacious. STPs can’t be the solution – a lesson we also refused to learn when other countries stopped using them to clean their water bodies, but should learn now as we stand humbled by a tiny virus. This is less because STPs can’t handle the volume and more because their maintenance and upkeep quickly outweighs their usefulness.

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