Rebuilding India – What Lockdown has taught us and What we must we do Now!

Rajat, a serial entrepreneur, IIT Kanpur, Stanford and Harvard alumnus, and co-founder of Lohum Cleantech

A new canvas of living, vide the Covid:

In sync with earth- Ever since the invention of the steam engine the human race has never lived more in sync with nature than right now. The current generation of urban youth therefore there is awe and ecstasy attached to a new clean Yamuna or birds like peacocks emerging from their hiding places. That crisp air that you inhale as you step out into your gardens or balconies, that starry sky where you can identify the constellations being the latest cynosures of our attention. My guess is we may even have a fresh generation of poets amongst us now.

Numbers don't lie- Quantitatively, Delhi’s AQI in some of the busy areas of the city during this phase has been 95 compared to 145 last year. Vehicles and road dust, collectively contribute to almost 60 per cent of PM2.5 and PM10 levels. Furthermore, road dust is often triggered by speed and weight of vehicular traffic on it. Clearly, the reduction in vehicular traffic during lockdown is one of the most important reasons for this literal breath of fresh air.

Every life counts- Known as country with disdain for its people and a penchant for economic activity we have emerged as a country with a very contrarian core character. Unlike a number of our western partners traditionally known for their humanitarian outlook chose commerce over lives, while we felt that every death counts. In a country, where over 25,000 people die every day, 4000 of pollution alone, we are mortified by Covid-19 which in the last 1 month has averaged about 30 deaths a day.

The new India? Its clean, its considerate, its compassionate. It takes decades for human behavior to evolve & accommodate new paradigms. We seem to have accomplished it about 6 weeks. Let's look at some visible changes: If you step out, or peek out, you will see everyone wearing a mask and trying not to crowd. A country whose elite survived on help staff suddenly rediscovered the pleasure & skill of housework. Eating at home may become the new thing and this includes eating fresh, thus online food delivery services, have seen upto 70per cent reduction in volume. It took a virus to create these multiple shifts in consumer behavior that business will have to align to.

Let us rebuild, a new, clean industry for vehicles. We already have the technology and prowess to do so. All it will need is one big nudge. While Electric vehicles are generating traction all over the world we need so much more in India

Politics comes second- The PM's authority in the country remains unchanged. Surveys indicate people are satisfied with the response of the government and, whatever discomfort they may be facing, (loss of income, business, restrictions, social life), the confidence in the Prime Minister has only increased. Unlike western countries, we are not clamoring to get commerce on track. Every element of the political machinery has aligned to the larger good of the country postponing if not dropping their individual agendas.

How do we sustain all these amazing developments that silver line this cloud?

We have an exemplary opportunity to build an India that is cleaner, greener, healthier and sustainable. Some concrete steps towards creating it will encompass the following:

Enemy No. 1- Pollution remains public enemy 'number one' and treat it with the same sense of rigor we have showcased with Covid-19. Apropos to our current strategy, identify AQI hotspots and put aggressive pollution-curbing actions alleviating those locations. We identify and attribute every death linked to pollution and publish it. No hiding behind the smoke permitted.

Mini me- After the recognition of enemy number one it's important to identify its henchmen. Vehicular policies are akin to the medical condition making our own ecosystem vestigial. Statistics reveals that an industry that hires close to 5 million people is responsible for pollution related deaths of the same number every 4 years. This cannot be sane economics for any society. We should impose immediate restrictions on sale of polluting vehicles in the market. Let's give ourselves just one year to put a stop on sales of all non-zero-emission vehicles.

Floodlights at the end of the tunnel- Let us rebuild, a new, clean industry for vehicles. We already have the technology and prowess to do so. All it will need is one big nudge. While Electric vehicles are generating traction all over the world we need so much more in India. We have the opportunity to create a new industry of autonomous, connected, electric vehicles. Deep investment in technology will help us transition rapidly. In categories like 2 & 3 wheelers, we already are at a point where EVs are favorably comparable to traditional vehicles. Moreover, they can reclaim the current job loss in the traditional automobile industry. And the current disillusionment with China can be significant leverage for us.

Not fast & Not furious- It's time to optimize the number of heavy and high speed vehicles. There is no efficacy of high speed vehicles in residential areas except for the purposes of entry and exit. Let's ban them from unpaved roads. Remember, road dust is directly proportional to the size and speed of the vehicle. Let's promote low-speed 2-wheelers in the country. We need to build more electric bicycles for short distance commutes especially last mile connectivity.

Kumbaya- Finally, to create true sustainability, let's make sure we are building an ecosystem which is sustainable & ubiquitous. It will be unfair to keep our cities clean while the young, poor and rural involved in mining of materials such as Lithium, Cobalt and Nickel in other parts of the world. These materials are critical to the production of batteries for EVs. Let's embrace a culture of recycling & re-purposing to ensure that urban mining replaces traditional.

What I am proposing may sound drastic and dramatic but is both empirical & astute. I believe the Prime Minister of the nation has repetitively exhibited the vision and foresight required for our economy and the longevity of our people. He has both the confidence and the mandate of the people of this country to successfully implement this.

When it comes to changing the lives of millions of people, every government drafts its economic policies year on year, but a virus has come pretty close to doing that.