Parivartan through Parivesh (A New Transformation in India’s Environmental Clearance System)

India’s PM launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) on the occasion of World Biofuel Day. PARIVESH is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System, developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance and Ease of Doing Responsible Business.

With PARIVESH, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has become more of a facilitator than a regulator.  “PARIVESH” is a workflow-based application and has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents. It will help to seek various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.  It has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC), New Delhi.

Highlighting that PARIVESH offers a framework to generate economic growth and strengthens Sustainable Development through E Governance, Union Environment Minister stated that with automatic highlighting of non-compliance by the system, PARIVESH will help in improving the overall performance and efficiency of the whole appraisal process.

PARIVESH accepts online submission and monitoring of compliance reports including geo-tagged images of the site by regulatory body / inspecting officers through website as well as  Mobile App for enhanced compliance monitoring.  Further a Geographic Information System (GIS) interface is available for the Appraisal Committee to help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays, if any.  “PARIVESH” enables project proponents, citizens to view, track and interact with scrutiny officers, generates online clearance letters, online mailers and alerts to state functionaries in case of delays beyond stipulated time for processing of applications.

Immediately after the release of the PARIVESH website, an emergency meeting was held in Diwane I Khas of Taj Mahal at Mansingh Road in Delhi. Several “stakeholders” were present at this secret get-together. Even Times Now and Republic TV channels did not know that such a meeting was being held. Rumor was that team NDTV was however present there disguised as the waiters.

 

Diwane I Khas at Taj Mahal Hotel

The stakeholders included consultants offering services of Environmental Clearance (EC) and those involved in accelerating the work flow of EC by greasing the officials. The former looked like foxes and the latter looked like hyenas.  Then there were Ex-EC committee members and the Ex-chairmen of the EC committees who do the business of giving “strategic advice” to the project proponents. They occupied separate roundtables to show their different stature and position.  And there were many representatives of environmental monitoring agencies who “generate” the base line data (mostly unreal) but for helping a speedy EC. They looked more like a herd of sheep.

My Professor friend found about this “secret” meeting and asked me to accompany.

“How will we introduce ourselves Professor” I asked this question.

“Oh, don’t worry Dr Modak”, Professor said while lighting his cigar “We will say that we are from the headquarters of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). We will need to dress up a bit, wear a suit and a tie and sport a lapel of IAIA. I am a Member but have a spare one that I will give to you”

Very clever I thought. I knew that IAIA has no India chapter and hardly anything is known about their work. Some had told me that  the only thing known is that IAIA holds annual conferences in exotic places across the world striving to make money. This may not be true of course.

When we entered the room, we saw that one roundtable was occupied by representative of the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank. These representatives were the “safeguard” people and had constipated faces as they were doing nothing except keep finding faults in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents submitted by the clients (actually by consultants). They used Microsoft Word only in track change mode. On the same table, I saw some familiar faces from the BIG 4. These folks were sitting like proud cocks and hens, distinguishing from the “normal” ESIA consultants, sporting a “buddha” face that indicated “we know the truth”.

The last to enter the room were a few corporate honchos. They had ensured that media was not present and that there presence wont get “recorded”. I heard them whispering that this level of transparency in EC was a bit too much! Now we will not have any “play” to influence and tweak the workflow any more – especially  when most needed. They said.

One Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) said that “well today the e-governance is set for EC, but I wont be surprised if this gets extended to the Business Responsibility Reporting (BRR) and CSR Reporting. This will make rather difficult to bluff – that we usually do – while making tall claims about the social development and environmental improvements that we are supposed to do. I could understand their fear and discomfort.

Finally, we saw a table of “corporate” environmental NGOs. They looked a bit skeptical about PARIVESH as the present system allowed them to make allegations and write stories.  But they looked a bit supportive to the idea of PARIVESH  – as they were interested to find out how to “exploit” the new system to their advantage. That’s most of the NGOs of this kind do. Don’t they?

The main point of discussion was to assess the impact of PARIVESH on the “ecosystem” of stakeholders to EC. Everybody wanted a solution and a counter-strategy. After some initial chaos, several observations and suggestions were made.

The consultants engaged in the EC facilitation felt that PARIVESH will lead to a big loss to their income. The strategic advisers said that they would soon lose their clout and may become redundant. As PARIVESH will pool national environmental data across 135+ “layers” on a GIS platform, the business of generating (fake) baseline data will suffer. The environmental NGOs felt that now that citizens will get information on the entire work-flow of the EC online, their function of “representing the people” and “feeding breaking news”  may get a bit compromised.

When one of the Corporate NGOs saw lapel of IAIA on Professors coat asked why can’t IAIA undertake a study on the Impact Assessment of PARIVESH. Professor behaved as if he was hard of hearing, but I thought it was a great idea.

As expected, the meeting ended with no clear direction on the next steps. Perhaps, the fact that PARIVESH became actually operational was a shock to many. Not many knew  that this “typhoon” was coming. PARIVESH looked like a secret operation carried out as in  nuclear blast at Pokharan!

While exiting Diwane I Khas, I overheard the conversation at the table of the World Bank et al and the BIG 4.

One of the BIG 4 was asking the World Bank safeguards specialist “Will PARIVESH make your work in the World Bank redundant? Given the “equivalence” between your safeguard system and India’s EC procedure, you may not now need to conduct ESIA in your style and do all the supervision”

The man from the World Bank answered “In a way, you are right. But after listening to the discussions of today, we are thinking of supporting a program on Rehabilitation of PARIVESH affected stakeholders (PAPs in Bank parlance) and come up with an alternate Income Generation Scheme (IGS)”

“Oh, very clever!” l I said to myself

I then realized how smart the World Bank is.


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You may like to read some of my related posts

How to get Speedy Environmental Clearance?

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/how-to-get-speedy-environmental-clearance/

Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/indian-weddings-now-require-environmental-clearance/

Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/impact-assessment-of-environmental-impact-assessment/

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Photos in Blue Halo

Most people hate the occasion of saying a good bye. Saying good-bye can be heart-wrecking – whether your separation is temporary or over a long time. We as people are so wired to each other –– that any separation from someone you love or adore is painful.

While saying good-bye, people often hug, kiss and resist parting. Some are formal and do a handshake but the palms – moist or firm as they can be – communicate their feelings.

There is also a feeling whether you will see your friend once again – concerns on safety in travel and health risks due to our lifestyles have been some of the reasons. So we return from the airports, railway stations and bus stands with a heavy heart. We feel relieved when we receive the message that “all is well” or “reached alright” from your friend or the beloved after reaching the destination.

Some people carry gifts as a surprise when saying good bye. This makes the event of departure memorable. Some present flowers and take a photo as a memory to post on the Facebook.

Many suggest that instead of saying good bye say, “so long”. This expression hints a “promise sentence” such as “So long, I’ll see you later or we’ll meet again…”, indicating that this is only a temporary separation. You feel a bit positive when someone says “So long pal” to you. And I prefer this expression.

I often do a trick when I see off my children at the airport. Both my kids live in the United States. While saying “So long”, I tell them that it is very likely there could be a visit from me in the next three months.  My  fib just comforts them, calms down and takes away the pain of separation. But its strange that sometimes my travel to the US actually does happen!

But saying goodbye happens not just when you see someone off. You also say a goodbye when you leave school, university or your job. We call this event as farewell. Farewell is a fancy or a grand way to say goodbye. A farewell is also an expression of good wishes at the parting. Farewell is more for a longer separation like going overseas or leaving an institution. Generally, people give speeches during the farewell. I have attended farewells where I had an opportunity and the honor to listen to some of the memorable speeches.

Some speeches made at farewell make you think differently and understand hidden dimensions of the personality not earlier known. Farewell speeches are also opportunities to express the gratitude. Speech by Steve Jobs is one such example.

I went to meet my Professor on Sunday for coffee and conversations. His wife ushered me to his study where he was flipping an album of photographs and smoking a cigar.

He handed over the album to me – “Take a look Dr Modak, I will just do a quick shave and come back in five minutes”.

I browsed the photo album. It had photographs taken at the departure area of the Mumbai International Airport. Some of the photos were featuring Professors colleagues and friends. Oddly, he was not in any of the pictures. I wondered why the Professor maintained a separate album just for the occasions of good bye! Could there be any special reason? I was a bit puzzled.

As Professor was taking more time than expected, I decided to spend more time on the photos as I browsed the Album.

And I noticed a strange thing. In almost each photo, there was someone in a “blue halo”. The halo was not very explicit around the person in spot, but a closer look at the photo showed its presence. I decided to ask Professor about the halo as I saw him stepping in.

“Good question Dr Modak, And you being a man of detail,  I was expecting this question”

Professor continued and spoke to me in a rather low voice

“I don’t know whether you realized that all persons you see in Blue Halo are no more today. The photographer I use for these Goodbye occasions has a mystic camera that brings a blue halo to the person who will be the first one to die after the shot is taken”

I just couldn’t believe this! Now I understood why Professor didn’t want to be in these photos!

I looked at the photos once again where I knew some people.

Oh – This is Professor Raghavan in the photo taken on April 5, 2002. I remembered that Prof Raghavan expired on June 27 in the same year due to a heart disease that was not earlier detected. And this is Ms. Jose Felicia, Head of UN convention on biodiversity for Africa waving a good bye to Professor. She visited Mumbai in October 2004; I remembered that she met with a fatal accident in the outskirts of Nairobi during Christmas in the same year. This was really an unfortunate event and was shocking to all of us.

I couldn’t resist but ask “Very strange and simply unbelievable Professor. Who is this Photographer? And is he still around?

Professor smiled and said “I generally don’t show this Album to people. Many would then ask me about the Photographer and his mystic camera. But Dr Modak, he is still around. He is pretty old now. I am sorry I cannot share with you his details”

I understood that this information was going to remain as a secret. Professor appeared rather firm.

Next week, I was hosting a delegation from EU on Business and Sustainability that was headed by my good friend Olivia from Spain. We had conferences and field visits over a week. Professor joined us for the farewell dinner that I hosted at Bungalow No 9 in Bandra. There were scintillating speeches by the participants, all appreciating the visit and opportunities for experience sharing. Olivia was exceptional, and her farewell speech expressed her passion on the subject of sustainability. She articulated her future plans of cooperation. I presented her a silk scarf as a token of appreciation that she gladly accepted.

As I escorted Olivia to Uber, she paused before entering the taxi. In a soft voice she said “Prasad, I am not too sure whether I will see you again. Just a month ago, I was diagnosed for a throat cancer. It’s in an advanced stage. The doctors have told me that I have a little time left to live – may be another 3 months”

I was shocked to hear these parting words. Olivia hugged and kissed on my cheeks “Thanks for the scarf Prasad. I will cherish these memories”. She said while closing the door. She had wrapped the scarf around her neck – like ring-fencing her throat cancer.

She then lowered the glass window of the car and said “Nobody knows. Not even Professor”. Uber drove out of the Bungalow No 9.

I didn’t know what to say. My heart was heavy. And I was in tears.

On the day of departure, Professor volunteered to come to the airport to see everybody off. I was delighted.

We all met at the airport and assembled outside the departure gates. It was a Sunday and 9 pm at night. Flight to London was at 1 am and so we decided to take couple of photographs as a memory. But Professor was  not around although he had promised. Shortly I received a call that he cannot make it due to an urgent call from PMO. Typical of Professor I said to myself.

As we were taking group photographs, we decided to request someone to handle one of our smartphones and take a good quality picture – we didn’t want to rely on the clumsy Selfies!

One oldish man was standing around. He volunteered to help us. He said he will use his own camera and not charge us for taking picture as it was his hobby. We agreed.

He had a pretty old styled conventional looking camera. He took good many pictures of the group. He then walked to me and said “Your Professor friend asked me to attend today”

I was surprised that he recognized us. Oh, so this was that mysterious photographer then.

I asked for his visiting card.

The man said he does not keep any visiting cards.

“Don’t worry. I will send the pictures to the Professor. Please collect from him – all my complements Sir”. He seemed to be in a hurry and disappeared in the crowd.

Two days later, I called Professor and told him how I met “his” photographer at the airport and asked when can I pick up the photographs.

I knew that the photos will show a blue halo around Olivia. Oh, I will miss her I said to myself.

Professor wasn’t very enthusiastic. “I am a bit busy Dr Modak” he said, “Let me check – I probably misplaced the photos”.

“Well Professor, please don’t lose these precious photos.  I won’t be surprised if I see a blue halo across Olivia’s face” I told him.

I didn’t want to tell the reason as it was a secret not shared by Olivia with anybody.

There was however a stoned silence.

“I don’t think so” Professor said – “As far as I recall, there is no halo around Olivia’s face”

He sounded a bit stiff and abrupt.

I started wondering. Who could it be then? I thought about others and ruled out almost everyone.

And then a strange thought occurred in my mind.

Was it me? and was that the reason why Professor did not want to share with me the photos?


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Sage Narada and Sustainability

Sustainability as a concept is great but when it comes to practice, we feel that sustainability on this planet is perhaps not just possible to achieve. There is so much chaos and unevenness. We will always stay on a turbulent or unsustainable journey. Let us accept this bitter truth.

To address this challenge, we came up with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but we are not sure how could we sync our interests on quality of life with our limited and threatened natural resources. We worry.

My professor friend told me that the answer is innovation in the form of disruptive technology. According to him, these technologies will radically transform our patterns of production and consumption.   According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business has the potential to unlock $12 trillion in new market value.

What happens if we go disruptive? For instance, the organizations will apply machine learning to support intelligent analytics, processes and user experiences. As people, places, processes and “things” become increasingly digitalized, they’ll be represented by digital twins for simulation. This will provide rich opportunities for new event-driven business processes and digitally enabled business models and ecosystems. Here the concepts of sustainability could be easily embedded.

Advances in AI, the IoT, user experience and application architectures will characterize 2018. Attention will shift from security tools to business risk and trust management. Clearly, the physical and digital worlds are expected to merge to support sustainability. So, sustainability will be the driver to such innovations. Professor cited me Garners 2018 report on top 10 strategic technology trends.

But not all disruptive technologies have to be digital. So, when Professor asked me to join for a breakfast with a representative of Hyperloop, I was rather delighted. Hyperloop brings airplane speeds to ground level, safely. Passengers and cargo capsules will hover through a network of low-pressure tubes between cities and transforming travel time from hours to minutes. Founded in 2013 in Los Angeles,  Hyperloop is a global team comprised of more than 800 engineers, creatives and technologists in 52 multidisciplinary teams, with 40 corporate and university partners. Amongst its several advantages, high-speed travel  by Hyperloop will relieve over-crowded cities by decreasing the need for urbanization. People will live where they are and reach cities in minutes if they want to. Hyperloop is already getting piloted in China.

When I listened to the presentation, I felt sorry that our PM thought of the “outdated” bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmadabad. Instead, he should have considered the Hyperloop. Imagine a Hyperloop placed between the four metros of India. This will cut down so much of travel by road, rail and airplanes; reduce the fossil fuel consumption and cut down GHG emissions may be by 10-fold and besides save so much time that people wont know what to do! By deploying this disruptive technology, India’s productivity as well as its sustainability scorecard will drastically improve!

When the man from Hyperloop left, I asked the Professor about his assessment.

“Well Dr Modak, I am thinking differently – something out of the box” Professor said this and lighted his cigar.

“Do you remember the movie Star Trek? It featured a “transporter” – a fictional teleportation machine that “converted” a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then “beam” it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization)”

“Yes, Professor” I answered. I recalled that Transporter in the Star Trek first appeared in the original pilot episode “The Cage”. The transporter used special effects, using computer animation, and by turning a slow-motion camera upside down and photographing some backlit shiny grains of aluminum powder that were dropped between the camera and a black background. The entire transportation episode looked so mystic!

In August 2008, physicist Michio Kaku predicted in Discovery Channel Magazine that a teleportation device similar to those in Star Trek would be invented within 100 years. But many thought that his speculation was too optimistic. Physics students at University of Leicester calculated that to “beam up” just the genetic information a single human cell would take 4,850 trillion years. A study by Eric Davis for the US Air Force Research Laboratory of speculative teleportation technologies showed that to dematerialize a human body required heating it up to a million times the temperature of the core of the sun. Only then the quarks lose their binding energy and become massless and can be beamed at the speed of light. In the closest physics equivalent to the Star Trek teleportation scenario would require the equivalent of 330 megatons of energy. Further, the information storage and transmission requirements would require current computing capabilities to continue improve by a factor of 10 to 100 times per decade for the next 200 to 300 years. (Taken from Wikipedia on Star Trek)

I was uncomfortable with this information but the Professor continued.

“Imagine Dr Modak, what if we really achieve this kind of transporter technology romanced in the Star Trek. There will then be no vehicles, no trains, no planes – no more consumption of resources like steel, aluminum, plastic and petroleum. No more generation of wastes and emissions, no accidents and no sabotages, no more waste of time. People travel by simply by dematerialization and rematerialization whenever they wish! To me this is the disruptive technology we all should be chasing for – something much more than the Hyperloop!!

I thought the Professor was right. With this technology in place, the world will indeed wheel towards sustainability. But the impact could be so disruptive. I thought of commissioning a study on Environmental, Social and Business Impact Assessment.

“So, what’s your plan Professor?” I asked

Well, I have SMSed Narada Muni (Sage) seeking his consultation.

Some of you may know that in Hindu Mythology, Narada Muni has been described as a global traveller. He travels all over the universe on the sound of his veena ( a string instrument) similar to the transportation technology of Star Trek. The yogis and sages of former times like Narada had what we today call the supernatural powers. When you know the right sounds and chant the appropriate mantras, you can easily create (rematerialize) or dissolve (dematerialize) the matter. The Shruti portion of the Vedas contain mantras for this purpose. For instance, the Bhagavat Purana documents an event, where the brahmanas or the sages killed king Vena by uttering sounds. Mantras are also there to create strong winds and rain or fire. Kardama Muni created an entire mansion in the sky by sound vibrations. That happened in Satya-yuga, several million years ago when the science of uttering mantras were known to the Vedic sages. Obviously, all this only works when the mantra or the sound is pronounced exactly right. That’s why you need to learn this from a living teacher.

I thought getting Sage Narada on board was a good strategy to move towards sustainability. No wonder the Gods and the heavens were never challenged by the sustainability related issues as they used this disruptive technology.

I asked Professor if I could join meeting with Sage Narada.

I thought that by learning this technique, I will solve my problem of getting into the crowded trains of Mumbai every day! Oh, what a great relief it would be! I could just carry a veena and transport myself to office in a whiff!

And this mattered to me much more than Planets sustainability!

Professor was however not so happy with my narrow minded thinking.


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Don’t worry Be Happy

In 1972, King Wangchuck of Bhutan declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” The concept was revolutionary.

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, GNH is captured in the form of a GNH Index. It includes nine domains such as Psychological wellbeing, Health, Education, Time use, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience and Living standards. The nine domains are equally weighted because each domain is considered to be equal in terms of its intrinsic importance as a component of GNH. The domains are supported  by 33 indicators that are measurable.

Taking inspiration from Bhutan, in 2012, the United Nations declared March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness. The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all peoples. Since then many countries have followed the concept and framework on GNH.

The GNH Index  identifies four groups of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. The analysis explores the happiness people enjoy already, then focuses on how policies help increase happiness and sufficiency among the unhappy and narrowly happy people.

In the last census carried out in 2015  by the Ministry of happiness in Bhutan, 35% of the population answered ’extremely happy’, 47.9% said they felt ’moderately happy’, and only 8.8% of respondents said they were ’unhappy’.

I don’t know the results if we polled on GNH Index in Mumbai today. With all the potholes on the streets, garbage being thrown on the beaches and pollution in the air, 90% of Mumbai’s population will be in the category of “unhappy”. Those “deeply happy” must be 5% consisting politicians, builders and contractors. May be the bureaucrats in Mumbai will fall in the categories of “narrowly happy” and “extensively happy” depending what portfolio is allotted to the “babus” for administration.

In the 2018 edition of the World GNH report, India ranks 133 out of 156 countries. And India’s happiness rank is falling each year. This is disturbing.

When I expressed my concern to my Professor Friend, he was not perturbed. He lit his cigar and said

“We are already addressing the happiness issue. Did you know that Madhya Pradesh is the first State in the country to have a department of happiness to boost the wellbeing of citizens? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government created this department in July 2016 and tasked it to ensure “the happiness and tolerance of its citizens” by creating an “ecosystem that would enable people to realise their own potential of inner wellbeing”. The department is supported by a State Institute of Happiness that is responsible for “developing tools of happiness”, and thousands of “happiness volunteers” who conduct “happiness tutorials and programmes”.

I was aghast to know about this initiative. Professor continued.

“More than 25,000 “happiness volunteers” have signed up and these volunteers will work in the State’s 51 districts, holding “happiness tutorials and programmes”.  Under this programme, week-long Happiness Festivals are organized. These festivals are targeted “to put a smile on every face”. The festivals get people out of homes, bring them together, and make them happy. The aim is to forget the worries of life and enjoy together. The idea is to spread the virtues of “goodness, altruism, forgiveness, humility and peace”.

Wow. I presumed the Government bears all the expenditures on spreading happiness.  But how long such week long festivals will sustain? Besides don’t we have enough of festivals to celebrate already. I wondered whether all this would spawn another bureaucracy of happiness.

“Don’t look at these programmes in a narrow perspective Dr Modak” Professor retorted “After all we need people to have a positive mindset. We will try to achieve this through school lessons, yoga, religious education, moral science, meditation and with help from gurus, social workers and non-profits.

I thought Professor sounded like a Godman.

“And this concept is spreading in other States as well – albeit in different forms”. Professor told me about Happiness Commission that has been set up by the Andhra Pradesh government led by Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. Here the Commission has proposed to create walking tracks for citizens in all the municipalities, development of parks with sitting and jogging spaces, introduce electric buses and CNG auto rickshaws in place of petrol or diesel vehicles and creation of cycling zone in the municipal areas to promote a health living style.

This TDP driven approach focusing on social infrastructure was certainly different from spiritual based masterplan propagated in Madhya Pradesh by the BJP Government.

But I couldn’t understand why such a sudden interest in GNH in India, and especially when we are close to the elections.

Professor said “Dr Modak, I in fact welcome this move. This is the way to convince people that happiness is a “state of mind” and is not necessarily linked to “materialistic essentials and comforts” to our lives. Rich people are often unhappy, and a poor can be a happy person based on the outlook. Once people understand this de-linking between materiality and happiness; they will not resent even if the Government and for that matter previous Government fails to provide the essentials such as Roti (food), Kapada (clothes) and Makan (housing)”

“Oh, so clever, So you don’t need to be accountable to the promises made in the election manifesto “ I exclaimed

“You got it Dr Modak” Professor got up from the chair and extinguished his cigar.

May be one of the slogans in the coming up election is going to be “don’t worry and be happy”.


Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s poorest and most agrarian states, and a severe drought has left it with the country’s third-highest suicide rate among farmers. Madhya Pradesh also suffers from high malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality, and the highest rape incidence in the country.

Three years ago, Bhutanese PM Tshering Tobgay cast doubts on the country’s popular pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH), saying that the concept was overused and masked problems with corruption and low standards of living. In 2013, Venezuela announced a “ministry of happiness”, but it did not stop the country from descending into social and economic chaos. [Taken from BBC News]


Cover image sourced from https://www.quora.com/Why-is-India-ranked-so-low-in-the-world-happiness-index-even-behind-its-sub-continent-neighbors

 

 

 

Global Leadership Program on Circular Economy in South Australia  

India faces many environmental problems today. Our limited resources are under threat due to intensive depletion and serious degradation. Further, we realize that risks to our resource security are compounded due to looming threats of climate change. Policies and strategies to respond to these challenges need mainstreaming of sustainability across all developmental sectors.

Circular Economy offers a platform for all stakeholders to get involved for sustainable and inclusive development. In addition to addressing environmental sustainability, Circular Economy improves the businesses competitiveness, generates employment, increases green investment flows, builds on partnerships and helps in establishing a transparent and inclusive governance.

While there is no debate on the benefits of Circular Economy, one of the major challenges faced not just in India, but globally, is lack of leadership who can accelerate transition or transformation to circularity.  In addition to the leadership, we need to build knowledge networking platforms on circular economy across government, business, investors, academia and communities and offer experiential learning.

With this objective in mind Green Industries South Australia (GISA) , Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation and Circular Economy Alliance Australia (CEAA)  signed a 5 year MoU in December, 2017.

GISA took a lead and with support of Ekonnect and CEAA organized the first pilot course on Global Leadership Program on the Circular Economy between June 17 to 23 in Adelaide in Australia.  The program was developed in partnership with the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD). Besides me, Hemant Chaudhari of CEAA, Rudra Mohanty of UNCRD and Prof Brajesh Dubey of IIT Kharagpur contributed as resource persons.

South Australia has a global reputation for leadership across a wide range of circular economy issues. These include container deposit legislation, the plastic bag ban, high-performing kerbside systems, investment in resource recovery infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater recycling and reuse, renewable energy (in specific solar), innovation districts with incubators.

The program attracted leaders from the government, industry and not‑for‑profit sectors in India, Japan and Australia. Program participants had a hands-on experience to see Australian circular practices through visits to different industries and operations relating to water, waste, energy and materials management. A unique point of difference was that the program was developed for practitioners. At each facility, short presentations were made leading to discussions and better understanding. Several handouts were shared during the visit.

The companies that participants visited included Peats Soils and Garden Supplies; ResourceCo; Jefferies Group; Advanced Plastic Recycling; Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority and South Australia (SA) Water.There was also a presentation from Salisbury city on the massive program they have on harvesting and reusing stormwater.

Highlights of some of these companies are described below.


Peats Soils and Garden Mulches 

Peats Soils and Garden Supplies produces and sells as much as 150,000 tonnes of compost, soil and mulch products in South Australia each year. Peats has developed its own proprietary process to manufacture compost products which improve crop yield and quality for viticulture, broad-acre and horticulture. BiobiN®is an on-site, capture and containment system used for organic material processing (starting the composting process) in an odour-free, easily accessible vessel. Peats has begun producing biodiesel from grease trap waste – the mixture of cooking oil and wash down waters that cafes, restaurants and takeaway outlets funnel into underground waste tanks.

Biobins at Peats

ResourceCo 

ResourceCo is South Australia’s largest specialist processor of construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial waste. It recovers and processes over two million tonnes of mixed construction and demolition waste materials per annum, producing recycled concrete/aggregates/ asphalt products for use in construction and road base, and grinds combustible materials for use as an alternative fuel to fossil fuels.

Advanced Plastic Recycling

Advanced Plastic Recycling manufactures wood plastic composite (WPC) products which are used in many parts of Australia and internationally. Its products can be found in parks, gardens and schools, by the side of the nation’s roads and throughout the transport, mining and agricultural industries. One of the major recent innovations has been creation of composites of plastic and saw dust to make railway sleepers. A great way to gobble up the plastic waste!

Railway sleepers made out of plastic waste and saw dust 

Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority 

The Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority (NAWMA) is run by the Playford and Salisbury Councils in metropolitan Adelaide and the nearby Town of Gawler, NAWMA co-ordinates a comprehensive waste collection service that focuses on encouraging and supporting households to separate recyclable and green materials from other waste. In addition, its Waste Recovery Centre includes a drive-through Waste Transfer Station for people to deliver other waste products, a recycling service for bottles and cans and a retail outlet. As result, more than half of the waste collected in its core region is diverted from landfill.

SA Water 

The Virginia Pipeline Scheme is a successful wastewater reuse project in South Australia. The scheme involves an innovative public private partnership approach to providing sustainable recycled water infrastructure for the Virginia area, North of Adelaide.  It provides recycled water from the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant for horticultural irrigation to approximately 400 customers in Virginia and surrounding area,

Aeration Tanks at SA Water 


The program gave ample opportunities to discuss experience of policies in practice such as South Australia’s Container Deposit Legislation. The participants attended an actual session of teachers coaching the students on waste segregation and recycling. They got exposed to the iconic non-government organization Keep Australia Beautiful (KESAB).

Finally, the high point was visit to the Tonsley Innovation District. This innovation district is one the first in Australia. It was fascinating to meet with eco-entrepreneurs who set up and scaled up their businesses with mentoring support from Innovyz

Tonsely was developed by rehabilitating old infrastructure

The pilot global leadership program gave us a valuable insight to further refine the program design. Feedback received from participants was extremely positive.

We will be launching a 3 weeks e-learning program on Circular Economy before end of the year. The modules will include glimpse of the companies in the form of video clips.

The next leadership program may take place between November-December over 4.5 days duration in Adelaide. We may do a two days precursor program in India to cover essentials on circular economy as a primer to the participants. The participation will be on a competitive basis following an application and selection procedure. We are exploring part sponsorship to deserving candidates.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Adelaide as a speaker and as a coach. For subjects like Circular Economy, a blend of theory and experiential learning is certainly the way. The program should not only confine to “learning” but on “how to lead and transform the organization” and make “connections” leading to partnerships, innovations and investments.

I congratulate GISA for developing such an innovative apparatus and running a truly inspirational Global Leadership program. My sincere appreciation for partnering with Ekonnect.

I am sure you will be interested to know more. Do write to me at prasad.modak@ekonnect.net copying Marcia  Kreinhold of GISA at  Marcia.Kreinhold@sa.gov.auand. We will be happy to respond.


The program wasn’t drab or only technical. Here are few photographs during the lighter moments


Dinner at an Indian restaurant

Lunching at Sarah’s Sisters Sustainability Cafe

Presentation at Jacobs Creek that followed by wine testing

Serendipity

Meeting people by chance in strange situations are encounters worth recounting.

You share with someone an umbrella and walk along on the street when it showers suddenly, or you land with someone interesting in the two seat cabin of a giant Ferris wheel –  or you get stuck in an elevator and get into conversations that help lighten up or destress.

In my life, I have gone through such situations.

I present to you today two interesting encounters with women – that I never met again.

I wish I had more such encounters to write about. Do you have a story to tell?


Arya Bhavan in Matunga is a place worth a visit if you want to savor authentic south Indian food. There is always a beeline of food lovers outside this cozy restaurant run by Muthuswamy.

It was a Sunday morning. I went to Arya Bhavan for my breakfast. There was a long queue outside. The Chief told me to hang on and wrote down my name.

“Five minutes Sir”. He said in an assuring tone.

But it took almost 15 minutes of waiting that I got invited inside. There was a two-seater table in a corner and one woman, probably in the age group of  30 to 40 was already sitting there. The Chief asked me to take the empty seat opposite her.

In places like Arya Bhavan, you have to follow what the Chief says. I was alone this time and so I was quite indifferent to where I sit. In the busy times, if you go in a group, you may have to split and occupy different tables to get somehow “accommodated”.  Idea in places like Arya Bhavan is to eat and not to chat.

Arya Bhavan provides an authentic traditional south Indian menu . Many of the items they serve are not generally seen in the menu cards of standard south Indian restaurants.

Menu Card at Arya Bhavan

I started looking at the menu card and was a bit lost in deciding what to order.

The woman sitting opposite on the table was watching me. She was having Brahmin Idlis. When I looked at her I saw that she was smiling.

“I know it’s so hard to choose Mr.” She said.

I said “Well, I am looking for a dosa. Can you recommend?”

“Oh, easy then. Ask for a Moong Dal Dosa. It’s a Sunday special at the Aryas” She smiled. “I am sure you will love my choice”. She spoke in an enthusiastic tone.

Her recommendation was perfect. And I did enjoy the Moong Dal Dosa.

We started talking. She told me that she had just dropped her son in the tuition classes right above Arya Bhavan and was having her breakfast, waiting for the son to return. Today was his last tuition class. Her husband was a sailor and away on the sea. They lived in Chembur.

“My son doesn’t like to eat here. He feels that this place is too crowded. So, I have asked to parcel Appam with coconut stew lavil. He will eat at home.” she explained.

I ordered for filter coffee and we chatted more.  She recommended me places where I could eat good south Indian food and finally summed up saying – but nothing to beat this place Mr.– Muthuswamy’s Arya Bhavan. She had a tam bram (Tamil Brahmin) accent.

“Oh, I must step out now. Please enjoy your coffee. See you – may be another time in Arya” The Woman got up looking at her watch.

I  liked chatting with this strange woman on a Sunday morning. She was a like a fresh breeze to me. Her enthusiasm was so charming.

I asked for a second round of filter coffee and thought more about her.

When I went to the counter to pay, the counter manager said, “Sir, your bill is already settled by Mrs. Iyengar”. I was surprised.

The Chief gave me the menu card while exiting. “Madam asked me to give you” he said

I took a look at the Menu. It had a few dishes underlined.

Oh, those were the recommendations of Mrs. Iyengar for me.


Sometimes I go alone to watch a movie at the PVR Cinema in Lower Parel’s Big Bazaar in Mumbai. I  had booked tickets for the Friday evening show of “Magic of Belle Isle” staring Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen.

I was a bit late. I picked up a large cup of buttered popcorns from the foyer and reached my seat. It was already dark, and I couldn’t clearly see the person sitting next to me. Probably there was a lady– Looked like she was alone like me as seat next to her was empty.

I placed my box of popcorns in the “cup holder” in between our seats.

The movie was great, and I was enjoying every bit of it. I was sampling the butter popcorns and watchful that I was not making too much noise.

There is a lovely scene in the movie when Virginia Madsen and Morgan Freeman are sitting next to the lake at night. Virginia Madsen asks Morgan Freeman about what kind of woman charms him. Morgan Freeman says that he loves a woman who walks into the room like her.

When Virginia asks “describe how does she walk in” then Morgan Freeman explains that he finds her walking in like a breeze of hot air – streaming in – after the rains.  A piece of Pathetique (Sonata No. 8 of Beethoven) is played on the piano in the background and that makes the conversation so emotional. [Do watch this video clip to experience]

My neighbor on the next seat was so engrossed and touched by this scene and the conversations. While her eyes were locked to the big screen, she put her hand in the popcorn cup and picked up a handful of popcorns to eat, oblivious to the fact that “the cup belonged to me”. And for the rest of the movie she continued sampling “my popcorns”. I refrained eating and let her.

There was an intermission and the lady realized the mix up she did with the popcorns.

She apologized “Sir, I am really sorry. I was so carried away. I did not realize that those were your popcorns! I was so engrossed in the movie”

I said, “Never mind Ms.”.

The lady was wearing spectacles with a chain and a Mizoram shawl. There was a nice aroma of a musky perfume. We got into a conversation.

She spoke about Morgan Freeman, his movies and how much she loves his acting. I enjoyed her analyses as many of her views aligned with me. It was nice to have a conversation with a strange and sophisticated woman – and sharing similar views.

She kept talking although the intermission ended, lights faded, and the movie resumed.

“The best one of Freeman’s is the Bucket List. What’s your view? ”  She whispered.

A man from the row behind said “Ssha…”  showing his displeasure; asking the lady to shut up.

She shut up and continued to sample “my” popcorns.

When the movie was over, we came out of the theater.

“Can you hang on for a moment please? I have to get something” She said.

The lady took couple of minutes to return. She asked, “do you have a car?”

Was she asking for a lift? I thought that this would be great opportunity to continue more conversations with the lady.

I said “Yes”

“and are you driving yourself or do you have a driver with you?”. That was her next question.

I said “I have a driver with me”

She opened up her Mizoram shawl that she had draped around her and passed me a large cup of butter popcorns – like a treasure that was hidden.

“This is for you Sir. Enjoy eating the popcorns that I owe – Eat when they are hot while your driver takes you home”

I was surprised by her interesting and wonderful gesture.

It had started to drizzle a bit. For a while I thought she resembled Virginia Madsen in the Magic of Isle Belle – as she breezed away fading in the crowd and waving at me a good bye

And I thought someone was playing a piece of Pathetique in the background


Cover page taken from https://aminoapps.com/c/btsarmy/page/blog/serendipity-jimin-oneshot/6PJM_EPBszupemxM5GGorKn1jK7JLPMprB


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The Non Resident Indian

[This post is by no means a criticism on the NRI community. Like you see in life, you meet all kinds of people and one cannot just generalize.

There are NRIs who are positively engaged with situation in India and do a considerable work to help the country while living outside. Kudos to them. But then such individuals are not really many and most NRIs behave in a way that I have narrated in this “story”.

So here it goes… ]


The NRI was in anguish when I met him at an International Conference on Waste Management. We met in the coffee break.

“Are you from India?” he asked me – taking a good look.

“Yes, I am” I answered. I was aware that sometimes its hard to distinguish between an Indian, a Sri Lankan and a Pakistani.

“Why are you attending this conference my friend?” The NRI quipped. “There is simply no use attending. It is a sheer waste of time and resources”

I was stunned with his remarks as he was a participant himself.

He continued.

“Indians have to first learn how to segregate the household waste. Segregation is something so basic. Unfortunately, despite all promotions and levying of penalties, people in India don’t segregate.  They throw away the waste without understanding the impact on health and environment.

While they keep their houses clean, they shamelessly litter around. I would like to see a responsible behavior first – and until this is done nobody should be given an opportunity to attend waste related international conferences.

I want to see the action, a real change and less of talk. In the country I live, we follow the three-bin segregation system meticulously – and this system is followed by everybody in the city. We are basically responsible citizens and not like Indians. I feel really bad for India”

NRI’s voice was raised with anger. He seemed rather weary.

“Are you a speaker here by any chance?” He asked.

I didn’t know what to say. So, I kept shut.

The NRI bent down and looked at my delegate batch.

“So indeed, you are one – and that too a plenary speaker!” he had a smirk in his voice.

“I am sure you will speak about some good stories or successes on waste management in India to impress the participants. But look, I don’t want to offend you, most of these stories you will tell won’t be true – at the most half-truths. The reality on the ground would be quite different.

I have seen this myself. People post pictures of beach clean-up activities – before and after. And when I follow up a week later, the beach is once again with all the filth and plastic.  So, the hype lasts just about a week and somehow makes a breaking news! Someone like you portrays this beach cleaning as a great citizen initiative and talk about it in international conferences. Shit.

Whom are we fooling?

In the country I live, this does not happen. All the citizen initiatives are well supported and recognized by the Government and the Private sector to ensure sustainability.

Indians are never serious enough or consistent about what they do. And that’s the problem”

The NRI sounded quite cynical about India.

“Do you work for the Government?” He asked

I said “No”

“Oh, thank God you are not. The real problem in India is its awful Governance. We have all the policies and regulations in place and these are seemingly well written – but when it comes to enforcement, there is so much corruption!

I was told that if you want to be an authorized waste recycler then you have to cough up a bribe of 100,000 Rs. That’s simply disgusting!

For a waste management contract, contractors operate a “ring fence” and bid with an “understanding”. There is no room for a company that has merit if it is not a part of the “ring”. In the country I live, there is so much transparency that such lobbying will never happen. Only meritorious companies get selected and so the waste management solutions are delivered as promised”

The NRI then said in a hushed tone

“Do you know that out of 24 Waste to Energy (W2E) plants in India, only one or two plants work! Many W2E companies in the country I live, are interested to do business in India – but I discourage them. I don’t want them to cut a sorry face”

I realized that my NRI friend was rather bitter about the situation in India.

I asked him when did he last visit India.

“Oh, I visit every year to see my old parents. Each time I go, I see the situation worsening. I would blame the politicians and the bureaucrats for this mess.

Waste management is just not on Government’s agenda. The landfills are like dump sites, slums have poor sanitation infrastructure and the sewerage system is inadequate with open nallahs (drains) crisscrossing over the city”. The NRI said this while picking up a coffee.

I thought of defending. I said

“You must be aware of the massive “Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan” (Clean India Mission) launched by our PM Modi.  This national mission is the largest in the world.

India hosted this year’s World Environment Day on banning of the plastic. Plastic is now banned in 18 of the Indian States. More than 11,000 kms of Indian roads are built with plastic waste.

This April, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs hosted 8th 3R Forum of the United Nations at Indore. Indore city won cleanest city award consecutively over last two years. You should visit Indore next time when you will be India”

The NRI did not show much interest. He seemed rather indifferent. So, I continued

“Under the ‘forum of cities that segregate,’ started by Center for Science and Environment, 26 cities from 14 States have come together to ensure that they adopt 100 per cent source segregation and become the pioneers of waste management in the country. I am sure that in the course of next 2 years we will achieve nearly 90% segregation in these cities”

“Well, to me all these are again stories –  Reporting on the progress of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan is more of marketing and a political gimmick. And conferences like 3Rs don’t help. All they produce are wastes (e.g. food wastage in the lavish lunch breaks) and GHG emissions (during international travel). Such events do not lead to any concrete actions although they do make impressive declarations” The NRI sounded very critical.

I still didn’t want to give up.

“Waste management and economics in India are quite different from many of the developed countries. You cannot apply the same yardstick” I protested.

“Waste-pickers play an important role in the Indian circular economy. This informal sector provides livelihood to millions of people. 3Rs like Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture are practiced and there is so much innovation out there.”

But the NRI wasn’t impressed. He pointed about that health and safety of the informal waste pickers has been a serious issue with unsafe reuse and recycling of biomedical and electronic wastes. Children work on the mountains of garbage. There are no regulations on the standards for the recycled goods so many of the upcycled goods can pose risk to the consumer. Who checks?

“India’s response to the challenges in waste management has been rather knee-jerk, reactive and not addressing the root cause”. He summed up.

“Oh, in that case why don’t you return to India and help our country” I ventured to ask this simple question

The NRI kept shut and put the coffee mug on the table.

He then said “Let us get inside the auditorium now. Else people will think that Indians have no sense of time”. He was perhaps right.

I ensured that I got a seat far away from the NRI and decided to skip the next coffee break.


Cover image sourced from

http://www.panjabilok.net/mudda/2017/08/11/nris-and-india/


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