India's cities breathe better as air cleans up post coronavirus lockdown

Mumbai and Pune too were upgraded to the ‘Satisfactory’ category of AQI.

Credit : Hindustan Times

The capital city of India, New Delhi, which consistently falls in the ‘Poor’ or ‘Very Poor’ categories of Air Quality Index (AQI) of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), has finally climbed up to the ‘Moderate’ category as of March 20.

As the Central as well as State Governments all over the country have encouraged people to stay indoors to prevent the threat of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), the pollution levels across Indian cities has been observed to be declining, improving the quality of air.

As per SAFAR data, the PM10, that is particles in the air less than or equal to 10 mm, in Delhi have reduced to 147 µgm-3 (per cubic metre of air), which are over 200 on a usual bad air day. The PM2.5 is now 68 µgm-3.

Mumbai and Pune too were upgraded to the ‘Satisfactory’ category of AQI. 


City AQI PM10 (µgm-3) PM2.5 (µgm-3)
Delhi Moderate 147 68
Pune Satisfactory 57 35
Mumbai Satisfactory 77 49
Ahmedabad Moderate 146 72

Source- SAFAR


“This is proof that with fewer vehicles on the road, we can achieve lower levels of pollution. It’s high time people accept this,” said activist Sujit Patwardhan, who is the founder of Parisar, a Pune-based organisation that advocates for sustainable transport.

While the pollution levels in any city are also attributed to dust, sand storms, industries and so on, Patwardhan has always emphasised that vehicle emissions are one of the largest factors contributing to air pollution.

“They like to blame the constant air pollution in Delhi on the coal-based power plants in the city. But I think these times of Coronavirus threat have truly shown that the air quality of the national capital could be improved by slightly changing the way we commute,” the activist added.

As per Manoj Pehlawat of Skymet Weather, the local pollution accumulation in Delhi has reduced drastically, mainly due to the self-imposed curfew.

“Number of vehicles on the roads is even fewer than it was when the Delhi Government had initiated the odd-even rule in the city. With all the public interest places in the city closed, and the fear of COVID-19, fewer people are leaving homes, and it has directly impacted the air pollution levels,” Pehlawat said.

The data by SAFAR, which is affiliated to the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune showed that the overall Delhi AQI was in the higher range of ‘Moderate’ category on March 20 morning, and is likely to improve marginally during the day. The SAFAR model also suggested that the AQI is likely to improve marginally to the lower end of the ‘Moderate’ category for March 21, and ‘Moderate’ to the ‘Satisfactory’ category on March 22.

Worldover, media reports have indicated a decline in pollution levels, as countries began lockdowns in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As per an article by CNN, “The average number of ‘good quality air days’ increased 21.5 per cent in February, compared to the same period last year, according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Satellite images from the European Space Agency and NASA showed a dramatic reduction in the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. New York based researchers have also stated that early results have shown carbon monoxide emissions mainly from cars have reduced by at least 50 percent. In Venice, Italy, Dolphins and Swans reclaimed the canals that are usually crowded with tourists, soon after Italy went into lockdown.



The whole situation has thrown a renewed light over the necessity to use public transport.

“I think the government as well as people need to change the approach that they have towards public transport. Proper investment in the public sector will lead to more people utilising it, which will help keep air pollution in check,” Patwardhan stated.