Dec 04, 2023
Dec 04, 2023
The withdrawal, albeit temporary, of homosapiens from the environment has done Nature enormous amount of good. Nature has hardly ever been left to itself by them. It has been an unprecedented development. Never for a day have the humankind withdrawn from their surroundings so completely barring a few breaches here and there. This was all because of the deadly corona virus that has broken all the barriers of space to become pandemic. Ironically, the virus originated because of human meddling with Nature and, displaying frankensteinian traits, it started killing humans and forcing them indoors out of fear of death.
When humans are around they tinker with Nature all the time doing hardly any good to it. But all their interventions with the Nature are for their own good. They harness it for their own conveniences decimating it in the process. Now that they are confined within the four walls of their homes for a substantial length of time Nature is coming into its own and, at places, regaining what it had lost in an unequal contest that has lasted over centuries since the beginning of human civilization.
Reports of renewal of Nature have been coming ever since the lockdown for Corona virus was firmly established. During the lockdown all the human activities, including the economic and commercial, came to a halt. The wastes and effluents, therefore, have become scarce freeing Nature from combating them in an effort to regenerate itself. Neither the industries nor the automobiles are pumping gases into the atmosphere. Even the air carriers are sitting on the ground, seemingly hibernating. All the air pollution of Nitrogen dioxide and PM 10 being absent, the skies have become clearer With far clearer skies no wonder, people have reported sighting of Himalayas from some of the most unlikely places. In Jullandhar in Punjab people have reported sighting of Dhauladhar ranges which occasionally were visible from Chandigarh. Even Saharanpur it seems has such clear skies that people are able to see the Gangotri peaks from their terraces.
The latest to report sighting of the Himalayas is Sitamarhi in Bihar. The Sarpanch of Singhwahini village in Sitamarhi District claimed that Mt. Everest was visible from the terraces of the homes of the villagers. The Himalayan ranges are 190 kilometres away from the village if one went by aerial distance. Old-timers claim that this phenomenon is being witnessed after almost four decades. In the interregnum the Air Quality Index took such a beating that all the skies became mucky making the atmosphere virtually opaque.
Even in Srinagar people are able to see the Peer Panjals after many decades. Peer Panjals above Gulmarg used to be visible from most of the points in Srinagar fifty years ago. I could see it from the verandah of my office on the Bund. It was a majestic sight with the blue skies with shredded white clouds with the Peer Panjals, below which were the Gulmarg hills and then the Jhelum flowing by. One could never imagine then that the mountains would ever disappear from view. The ranges were obliterated from view by the automobile exhausts so much so that by the time I happened to visit Srinagar again in 2011, Peer Panjals, of course, had become invisible, the traffic policemen were wearing face masks to keep the pollutants out. An explosion in automobile numbers had taken place and huge swathes of forests seem to have been felled in Gulmarg and Pahalgam for parking of these vehicles that facilitate tourism. While in my time fifty years ago there were no ceiling or table fans or ACs these now have become standard fixtures in hotels. With so many vehicles – mostly SUVs – plying, the air in the town has become poisonous and its temperature has climbed up.
Another unintended bonus of the lockdown has been cleaner rivers along with cleaner air. The water quality of Yamuna has improved though it is much below the pristine level. Likewise, Ganga waters too have improved though they are yet far from being drinkable without treatment.
What, perhaps, is more delightful is the wildlife that have come to occupy the urban space. There have been instances of leopards, bears, jackals, deer moving freely in cities where the dominant presence was of humans and that scared away all of them to where they belonged. Birds too are having a gay time in the absence of the obnoxious presence of humans. They fearlessly come and perch on window sills, balcony grills and hop around to the pleasure of bird watchers. “Balcony birding” has become a new way of birding. My young friend Dhananjay Vijay Singh has taken some excellent shots of colourful little birds that come and, as he says, pose for him. Even I find on our window grills small birds that I had never seen before.
These benefits are going to be short-lived as the lockdown cannot continue indefinitely. Industries will have to whirr again, vehicles currently parked at residences will have to be allowed on the roads, trade and business will have to commence again. To start with, all this may begin in a staggered manner but before long things will be in full flow. After all, the economic backlog has to be cleared and the country seems to have a renewed firmer ambition to become an economic power – a manufacturing powerhouse. A greater amount of effort will have to be made consuming a greater amount of natural resources.
It would be interesting to see whether environmental conservation will be kept in the loop. After all, the rampaging virus was a product of human intervention with the environment. That is a proven fact. Nothing will be more unwise than to overlook the factor of environment in our development and growth. Even if that happens to be a fact, the Government of India doesn’t seem to be very much concerned about conservation of environment. A recent report said that in the midst of the ongoing lockdown the National Board of Wild Life and the Ministry of Environment took a clutch of decisions some of which are clearly detrimental to the environment.
In the peak of the lockdown when most of the government offices were closed the Ministry of Environment and the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life together worked on 31 proposals, 16 of which related to highways, transmission lines and railway lines through national parks, sanctuaries and tiger corridors. While the 16 proposals were approved the Ministry also approved other projects concerning 3000 acres of land in eco-sensitive zones. While the Minister of Environment is reported to have tweeted that the approvals will promote “tourism, infrastructure, employment and economic growth” not a word was said about protection of protected areas that is the mandate of the Minister.
Clearly, the government has overlooked the ongoing crisis of the Covid 19 pandemic that emanated from too much messing with Nature. It seemed to have ignored thousands of deaths that came in the aftermath of the pandemic which apparently refuses to die down. The protected areas apart from harbouring our bio-diversity also contribute to our economy by way of tempering the climate, providing water reserves and keeping the surrounding areas green.
Invasion of eco-systems is never a good idea as it makes us fall out of balance with nature. Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, says we have “destroyed the ecosystems all over the world. What we have done is we have killed the apex predators and the dominant species. Once we did that, all you are left with are primitive species. These bats, rats have co-evolved” (presumably hosting deadly viruses).
More by : Proloy Bagchi