With a nationwide lockdown in place in view of coronavirus, India continued to breathe easy as pollution level in 88 cities across the country remained minimal. Out of the 103 cities where air quality was recorded, 23 registered 'good' air quality while 65 others recorded satisfactory air quality, according to the data from the Central Pollution Control Board.
An AQI between 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 severe.
Air Quality Index is an assessment of the air quality by taking into account different factors. The lower the AQI the better the air is considered to be.
The national capital witnessed a slight dip in air quality after the effect of rain subsided but it remained in the satisfactory category.
UP's Bulandshahr and Guwahati were the only two cities out of 103 that recorded poor air quality.
India is currently under the biggest lockdown with around 130 crore people asked to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed 29 lives and infected over 1000 people in the country.
The government has urged people to avoid unnecessary travelling, significantly reducing the traffic movement across the country.
Since the lockdown was imposed the air quality across the country has shown drastic improvement due to eradication of local pollutants generated due to construction activities and vehicular traffic among others.
According to the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the impact of the measures taken due to the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a drop in PM2.5 (fine particulate pollutant) by 30 per cent in Delhi and by 15 per cent in Ahmedabad and Pune.
The level of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution, which can increase the risk of respiratory conditions, has also reduced. NOx pollution is mainly caused due to a high motor vehicle traffic. In Pune, NOx pollution has reduced by 43 per cent, in Mumbai, by 38 per cent and in Ahmedabad, by 50 per cent.
Gufran Beig, a scientist at SAFAR, said generally in March, pollution is in the "moderate" category (Air Quality Index range: 100-200) while presently, it is in the "satisfactory" (AQI 50-100) or "good" (AQI 0-50) category.
Environmentalists said that though it is not the ideal way to bring down air pollution but at least it proves that such outcomes can be brought.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder, Care for Air NGO, said the low AQI and the blue skies proved beyond doubt that a lot of the polluted air was "anthropomorphic, that is, man-made".
"Obviously, slowing down the economy to such a degree is not the ideal way to bring down air pollution, but at least it proves that it can be done. We can achieve the same outcome by doing this mindfully, using technology and low-emission alternatives," she said.
Lavakare emphasised on the need to realise that air pollution weakens the lungs, so countries like India with higher pollution and lower nutrition levels will be more affected by COVID-19, and morbidity and deaths are likely to be higher.
Ravina Kohli, environmentalist and part of the #MyRightToBreathe campaign, said it was a "huge wake-up call" for governments obsessed with development at the cost of the environment.
"We, the people, are the problem. Our communication on solutions now also include how to reduce pollution at a personal level by being able to understand our behaviour and its consequences on our environment.
"For the first time, I believe our present generation will discover the critical importance and need for a focus on public health and the quality of air we breathe," she said.