The Prime Minister declared a country-wide lockdown on 24 March as part of the efforts to prevent the spread of Corona virus. The lockdown was a result of the helplessness which had gripped world's nations about the origin and spread of the Corona virus. India had no way to keep out of it. But the lockdown of nations led not only to hardships, but also to some positive realizations. On 3 April, the residents of Jalandhar, Punjab were in wonderment about the appearance of Dhauladhar mountains in the Himalayas, 213 kilometres away in Himachal Pradesh, right in front of their naked eyes.
With the suspension of civil aviation and the shutdown of industries, nature manifested itsself in readiness to redisover its purity. The rate of pollution fell sharply and the atmosphere came back to crystal clear status. Delhi, which was adjudged by the World Health Organisation as the world's most polluted city in 2014, used to record an Air Quality Index rating of 200, which was 25 per cent above the hazardous level. However, when the city went into lockdown for a few weeks, that fell steeply to 20. When the river Ganga started flowing clear after decades, test reports showed that the water in Haridwar attained potable level. The tangible changes that came to nature in every nook and corner of the country is a first hand experience of every one. Thus, human beings realised the gravity of the crime of making extravagant use of earth, which is to be bequeathed to posterity. And this is indeed a positive lesson from Covid.
Around this time, man is being engulfed by the consequences of environmental imbalances and man's onslaughts on ecology, one after the other: pandemic after floods, Amphan and Nisarga cyclones in its midst, the swarms of locusts that is capable of wrecking the already shaken lives of farmers in north-western states. The very infection of Covid has so far been assessed as the result of China's violation of rules governing wild life. The primary source of Corona is believed to be the wet market in Wuhan, which sells the flesh of all kinds of wild creatures. These unauthorised markets, which were temporarily suspended following the SARS infection of 2003, soon re-opened and resumed sales ignoring the outry of the world.
Thus Covid-19 is the latest punishment on man for his faults in upsetting the equilibrium of nature and environment. And experts keep warning us that it will not end there and the world is destined to face yet other crises. Over the past six months, the world has been nodding its head in approval that there is no way to survive such crisis other than through retreats of sacrifice; and it has been re-writing its habits and practices. Today the world is observing World Environment Day in the backdrop of this retreat and of the new normal based on that retreat. From now on, the virus has taught us, the routine rituals of observing days, declarations and pledges will not suffice to move forward, and if we maintain caution and restraint in nature that will lead us and the coming generation forward in well-being.
The world cannot stand dumbfounded at the face of pandemic and natural disasters. Nor can we improve the economy or take the nation forward by a total standstill. Even lockdown, as experts point out, will only extend the period of environmental well-being in general, but on a permanent basis it will be self-defeating exercise. Experts suggest that we should be able to exploit the possibilities of science and technology to their utmost and thereby to find solutions for the environmental and health problems through industrial progress. During that process, the world should be able to overcome the factors that endanger environmental balance with the help of scientific and technological progress achieved by mankind.
In all this, the problems arise not from absence of knowledge but from lack of wisdom on the part of leaders of nations. It may be recalled that one item of the package to tide over the Covid crisis of the central government was a green signal for firms that aim at exploitation of nature flouting environmental regulations. In Kerala too, the government that launched a campaign with planting a crore trees and with an oath of environment protection, was also found to be abetting excavation of quarries and mining sand, all under the cover of Covid. There are quite a few items to derive from the lessons of discipline that the government and the people have got used to thanks to lockdown.
The government has decided that the withdrawal of lockdown has to be phased to ensure that those lessons should be imbibed by the people. This way of caution and circumspection should lead the governments to a new normal of environment-friendly and nature-potecting approaches. And let that be the government's pledge on this Environmental Day. And together with this, if citizens also become prepared to emulate the new Covid-day lessons of restrained use of resources, it is certain that a new Kerala and a new India will emerge from word to reality.