Absence of tourists and subdued economic activity in Shimla due to COVID-19 outbreak have improved the town’s air quality, decreased its garbage and sewage generation and ensured adequate availability of water for the locald residents this June.
Though the disruption has affected the livelihoods of people directly and indirectly engaged in the tourism industry, it has resulted in better civic amenities and improved environmental indicators for the town residents this summer.
The average level of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in Shimla’s air so far this month is around 6.5 micrograms per cubic metre, as recorded by two air quality monitoring stations of the HP State Pollution Control Board.
It’s a decrease of 77 per cent as compared to the average level of NOx during the month of June in 2018, according to the data maintained by the Board. Automobiles are one of the primary NOx polluters, and the usual vehicular rush of the peak tourist season is missing this time.
Similarly, fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and sulphur dioxide levels this month have shown a decrease of 47 per cent and 39 per cent respectively as compared to June 2018.
The overall air quality index level of Shimla this June has ranged from 21 to 67, falling in the ‘good AQI’ category on 15 out of 18 days, and averaging 39.4 (an AQI below 50 indicates clean and healthy air).
The total garbage generated by the city these days is roughly 60 metric tonnes per day while it usually ranges from 70 to 75 MT in a normal June due to the influx of tourists, an official of the Shimla Municipal Corporation said.
Last year, Shimla had recorded a tourist footfall of 18.66 lakh till June, including 17.87 lakh domestic and 80,000 foreign tourists, according to the state tourism department. The footfall has been nil this year since March 19, when the state government banned the entry of tourists due to the pandemic.
Lack of tourists has also helped in preventing water scarcity in the town. According to officials of the Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Limited, the total demand for water these days is around 45 million litres daily (MLD), which is being met by two lift water supply schemes from Gumma stream and Giri river. The demand goes up by around 2 to 5 MLD during the peak tourist season and two years ago, the city had faced an acute water crisis during summer.
This year, snowfall in winter has been above normal resulting in an adequate supply, and SJPNL also plugged several leakages to cut distribution losses. On Thursday, however, parts of the town did not receive water supply because the total supply fell down to around 27 MLD.
With hotels lying closed, there has also been a reduction in the amount of sewage generated. The greater Shimla area currently generates around 20 to 25 MLD of sewage, around double the amount as compared to two years ago because the sewerage network system has been enhanced by 90 kilometres, an official said.
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