Residents queue at a bakery shop in Ludhiana. (Express photo: Gurmeet Singh)
The nationwide lockdown and the curfew in Punjab put in place to contain the spread of novel coronavirus has had an unexpected outcome. The air quality in Punjab improved drastically and most of the cities are now in the ‘green zone’, perhaps for the first time in the past several years.
Sample this: Ludhiana, which is among the most polluted cities of the country, was the cleanest city of India on March 23 with air quality index (AQI) of 35, according to the data sourced from the central pollution control board (CPCB)’s app ‘Sameer’. A day later (March 24), it was 39 and on March 26 it had an AQI of 34. In between these two days, on March 25, it was again the cleanest city in India with AQI of 27.
Meanwhile, comparative data revealed that on March 20, AQI of Ludhiana was 126 which was in moderate category while it normally remains in poor or very poor zone because of heavy industrial activity.
On March 26, both Ludhiana as well as Jalandhar with AQI of 34 were the third cleanest cities of India based on AQI figures released by CPCB after Mandideep a town in Madya Pradesh with AQI at 29 and Narnaul , a town in Haryana with AQI of 31. AQI of National Capital Delhi was as low as 88 on March 26.
Amritsar recorded an AQI of 67 on March 26 compared to 124 on March 20. Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, had an AQI of 39 on March 26 compared to 108 on March 20.
Sandeep Behl, senior environmental engineer, Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), while talking with The Indian Express, said, “No industrial activity and no vehicular traffic are factors that have contributed a lot in improving the air quality.”
Rupnagar, meanwhile, was the most polluted city in Punjab with AQI of 114 on March 24, which was, however, an improvement over 154 on March 20. Bathinda’s AQI on March 24 was 102, which falls under moderate category against 175 on March 20. Jalandhar’s AQI was 34 on March 26 against 83 on March 20, while Khanna’s AQI was 36 on March 26, more than half of 87 on March 20. Mandi Gobindgarh’s AQI was 61 on March 24 against 70 on March 20 while on March 26 it was as low as 43.
In Patiala, the AQI was 47 on March 24 against 125 on March 20. While on March 26, it was 39 thus coming in dark green zone.
Apart from the clean air, more birds were visible in residential areas.
Sparrows, parrots, pigeons, mynas were seen in residential areas till afternoon. Ranjodh Singh, an industrialist, said, “I even saw purple sunbirds, parakeets, tailor birds, yellow footed pigeons and pheasants in my garden. Perhaps they may have been present in the area earlier as well, but we never had the time to observe them. However, it is fact that they are now visible in large numbers”.
Dr Vivek Saggar, a Ludhiana-based dentist, claimed to have observed at least 30 different bird species at his garden.
As per CPCB guidelines, AQI is good if its value is between 0-50 and has minimal impact on environment. It is termed as ‘dark green zone’. An AQI between 51 to 100 which can cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people is considered satisfactory and is placed in ‘light green zone’. If AQI is between 101 to 200 then it is termed as moderate and can cause breathing discomfort to the people with asthma and heart diseases. During paddy stubble burning season, almost entire Punjab had an AQI of more than 300 and on few days it breached the 400-mark as well.