It’s about 9.30 a.m. Monday, April 20. The place is the Hindon river, between Vaishali and Indirapuram in Ghaziabad in UP. The first day when lockdown relaxations were to begin. Life was supposed to start limping back to normal. It hasn’t.
The river has been canalized. It can be mistaken for a drain, as it is highly polluted. One can also feel the stench when near the water. Yet, the overall atmosphere around the road joining the two Ghaziabad localities is pleasant. Cool breeze, birds chirping, hardly any noise of or pollution from vehicles, for they are far and few between.
Many people and environmentalists have expressed satisfaction over the improvement in environment reported from various places—unpolluted air in the national capital region, drinkable water of the Ganges at Hardwar, etc. Typically, good news is accompanied with fake news, so it was claimed in viral social media posts that swans and dolphins returned to the canal waters of Venice. National Geographic checked out the news and found it fake.
But yes, it is pleasant here; the environment is much cleaner, the surroundings much more agreeable.
Normally, at this point of time, this place is abuzz with cars, bikes, scooters, etc. But this is not the normal time; the nationwide lockdown is still in force. The lockdown has destroyed livelihoods, disrupted lives, killed jobs, and torpedoed economic growth and development. The consequences are too dreadful to let one enjoy the nice weather and clean air.
It’s a single road running parallel to the Hindon. On the one side, there is a thin footpath; on the other, it is ground with a long row of plants with yellow flowers. Quite pleasing, but it looks less pleasant as one looks a bit closely into the green mass of plans with yellow flowers. The ground is littered with empty plastic water bottles, wrappers of chips, a tarpaulin sheet deep inside the plants, visible only if you look very closely.
What will happen to the bottles, the tarpaulin sheet, and other non-biodegradable matter, I wonder. The row of plants will continue to look beautiful for some time, but for how long? When will the clean India mission reach such nooks and corners? And, more importantly, when will we, the people of India, stop behaving irresponsibly?
Quite apart from the economic cost of this cleaner environment, what will be the ecological cost of the fight against the coronavirus? I wondered why green activists are not worried about it. As my colleague Mahua Venkatesh pointed out in an article (<a href="https://indianarrative.com/analysis/use-of-non-biodegradable-material-is-on-the-rise-and-no-one-seems-to-care-1136.html">https://indianarrative.com/analysis/use-of-non-biodegradable-material-is-on-the-rise-and-no-one-seems-to-care-1136.html</a>), “it’s surprising that few environmentalists and scientists have spoken about this [the danger of the use of masks and gloves made of non-biodegradable materials].”
Venkatesh is a fine business journalist but she has little expertise on ecological matters. Yet, she can foresee the impending crisis, when the discarded masks and gloves would burden the machinery managing solid waste disposal.
Meanwhile green activists, smug and sanguine because of perceptible improvement in the environment, wait for the crisis to reach the breaking point.
But why on earth should I worry about everything, from politics to the economy, from culture to international affairs? Let me too get a little smug and sanguine, and enjoy the walk. At least, I should make an effort to enjoy. It’s pleasant, after all..