Air quality was gradually gaining political salience in India in the last few years, but COVID-19 and the deepening economic recession may now change the speed, and possibly the direction, of progress. The aim of this report is to begin the process, even amidst uncertainties, of understanding the effects of the COVID crisis on the air quality discourse in the country, and on the mitigation efforts already underway.
We begin with a brief overview of the air quality improvements observed during the lockdown, and then identify some likely implications of the pandemic on how we frame the air quality problem. In view of state actions and public response during the COVID crisis, how should we, if at all, adapt our current framing of air pollution as a public health crisis? In the next section, we discuss broad financial, regulatory and institutional implications: in particular, the need to engage with the available funding channels to initiate and sustain measures to improve air quality amid significant fiscal constraints. There is a worrying erosion of environmental safeguards, which may – in part – be justified as a prerequisite to restarting the economy, and facilitating “ease of doing business”. Given that air quality management in India needs a multi-pronged approach across disparate sources, we then reflect on how the disruptions affect each of the major sources, and the resultant opportunities and challenges.