Common Environmental Infrastructure  – Its Evolution and Future

 

“Environmental infrastructure” is a general term that refers to infrastructure facilities as well as public services that are essential for protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment. Environmental infrastructure reduces risks to the humans and ecosystems and improves quality of life.

Environmental infrastructure that is developed for the common interests of a targeted group of users is referred to as “Common Environment Infrastructure” (CEI).

Urban infrastructure such as water supply; sewage collection and treatment; collection, treatment and disposal of solid wastes and provision of public toilets are examples of Urban CEI. This infrastructure is built using resources from the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), State or Central Government in the form of grants or schemes or more recently partnering with the private sector. The public that is benefited through CEI is charged through tariffs and taxes. The charges are often subsidized and are differential (e.g. different for domestic, commercial and industrial uses)

There are CEIs for the industries as well. Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs)  are examples of CEI for industrial clusters/estates.

The concept of CETPs emerged from a workshop led by Professor Niloy Choudhari, then Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board in 1977 held in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India. CETPs were conceived to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to connect their effluents to a central effluent treatment plant and contribute financially to its construction and operation.

The proceedings of this workshop provide the concept and rationale for CETPs. I still hold a copy of the proceedings. Only few will have this copy. The CETP and its operationalization is India’s contribution to the World. Countries like Vietnam, Thailand, China, Brazil etc. adopted CETPs, much based on India’s experience.

In 1987, i.e. 10 years later after Prof Choudhari’s  workshop, a group of seven entrepreneurs owning and operating small and medium chemical and pharma industries came forward to promote Jeedimetla Effluent Treatment Limited (JETL). A CETPs was set up on the outskirts of Hyderabad following “Polluter to Pay Principle”. The treatment facility was commissioned in April, 1989 at cost of Rs. 4.6 million to treat 350 m3/day of effluent using Activated Sludge Process.

Today there are nearly 200 CETPs operating in India. In their promotion, following aspects were considered

  1. Institutional – To establish CETP, a company had to be formed under the Companies Act by the interested polluters for parties. SMEs had to be the major stakeholders or the beneficiaries, especially if subsidies were to be enjoyed.
  2. Financial – The CETPs were subsidized by the State (initially by the State Government and later in some cases by the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and also by the Center (using initially the Central Loan Scheme and later through a grant from Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) using the IDA funds from the World Bank (under the projects Industrial Pollution Control (IPC) and Industrial Pollution Prevention (IPP). The early financial structuring for capital contribution was as follows.

25% State subsidy, 25% Central subsidy (both provided as reimbursement), 20% Equity from the participating industries and 30% Loan (provided by Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) through IBRD money made available by the World Bank.

Now the financial structuring is different. The contributions are 25% Central subsidy, 25% by the State and 50% by the member industries. For CETPs involving primary / secondary / tertiary treatment, central financial assistance would be to the tune of 50% of maximum Rs.15 million / MLD capacity, subject to a ceiling of Rs. 150 million  per CETP. For CETPs involving primary / secondary / tertiary treatment and Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) treatment, financial assistance would be provided by GOI to the tune of 50% of maximum Rs. 45 million / MLD capacity, subject to a ceiling of Central assistance of Rs. 200 million  per CETP.

  1. Technical – The design of the CETPs had to be vetted to enjoy the subsidy. This was done by the National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI). MoEF specified the effluent standards.

Figure 1: Typical Institutional Framework for CETP as CEI

I spent around 8 years on CETPs as a Consultant to the World Bank under IPC and IPP projects. In this period, I had opportunities to interact with SPCBs, MoEF, Private sector and Industry Associations.

Each CETP company had their own method of sharing the 20% equity. Further, they used their own formula for computing the charges to be paid (to meet the operational costs) including repayment of the loan. The formula for charging typically considered effluent flow and effluent characteristics such Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD). In addition, each polluter was required to do certain minimum pre-treatment (e.g. neutralization). Additional costs included costs of managing effluent conveyance e.g. through a piped underground network or fleet of tankers.

Although essential, CETPs require today the Environmental Clearance (EC). MoEF has produced elaborate guidelines for this purpose.  EC for CETPs takes substantial time. Unfortunately, no one considers the “cost of delayed action” on the environment in the interim period i.e. in the absence of CETP!

There is a lot of unevenness across CETP companies today. There is no “national regulator” who controls and provides rationale for equity contributions (addressing the procedures for late entry and early exits) and importantly the basis of charging schemes. There is also no mechanism of “trading effluent loads” to encourage the effluent load reduction. Industries who reduce effluent load to the CETPs are generally discouraged as this leads to reduction in the revenue to the CETP.    I will highly recommend that readers to this post refer to the presentations made at a national conference in New Delhi on CETPs in 2014. I wish there was an active association of CETP companies at the national level to continue such dialogues.

There have been several reports on the performance evaluation of the CETPs by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), agencies like NEERI and Environmental NGOs. All these studies by different institutions indicate a high degree of non-compliance. Dealing with non-compliance of CETP could mean en-mass closure – that can have ramifications on the production and employment in the member industries. I had recommended that CETPs should be given operational subsidies over 5 years based on performance rather than one time capital grants. This recommendation was well received but not followed.

Some of the reasons for non-compliance at CETPs include lack of proper pre-treatment, extreme variability in the flow and composition of the influents, poor treatment design and operation and deficits in the cash flow due to inadequate collection of effluent charges. Many believe that the root cause of the problem is however lack of ownership.  When infrastructure is common, there is hiding of the identity. So, who cares? You simply pass the buck or blame each other.  Its more of an attitudinal or cultural issue – isn’t it? You badly need an iconic leader and a facilitator who motivates the CETP members and get them committed for the COMMON CAUSE. We do have such good stories to tell.

Today the CETP concept is expanded to address collective management of other residues e.g. hazardous waste and biomedical waste. CEIs that will manage E-waste will soon follow. CEI for management and recycling of Construction & Demolition (C&D) wastes are already established in Delhi. My organization Environmental Management Centre LLP recently drafted national guidelines for establishing CEI for C&D waste for GIZ.

CETPs are however gradually evolving to more sophisticated reuse and recovery systems (refer to Figure 2) and not just limit to compliance. CETPs are now being recognized as part of a more holistic treatment-recovery-reuse solution comprising of add-ons such a By-Product Recovery Facility (e.g. common chromium recovery in CETPs for tanneries, common solvent recoveries and common heat & power units), a water recycling facility (like operated at CETPs in Tirupur in India). CETPs are often expanded to include a Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility that can have a potential of recovery and recycling. It is important that any future funding of CETPs follows this holistic treatment-recovery-reuse solution, rather than restricting only to compliance. The Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) directive from SPCBs has been a driver in this direction. Sure, there will be motivation for Compliance, moment there are reverse operations (like water recycling) and clear financial returns.  

 

Figure 2: Gradual Evolution of CETPs from Standalone to More Sophisticated Reuse and Recovery Systems

As CEIs will spread to address specific waste streams like plastic, waste oil and metal scrap; there will be transformation of the informal sector. This sector that has major linkages will play a vital role if skilled and supported by micro-finance schemes and mentoring provided by the formal sector.  Waste to Energy is already a major CEI across the world.

Experience has shown that CEIs work best through PPP with lead taken by the private sector operator.  In such cases, Government provides concession or guarantees and does not invest. We should soon see more such CEIs in India. Example are Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) located in the industrial estates that are bided out. These MRFs essentially become gateway of Circular Economy by ensuring least leakage of material and energy flows outside the boundaries of the industrial estate. I wish the Industrial Development Corporations build MRF for every Industrial Estate as a part of the CEI apart from CETPs.  

I spoke top my Professor Friend about the evolution and future of CEI in India.  I also expressed my displeasure on the poor leadership of MoEF&CC in this sector and its lack of vision.

Professor lit his cigar and smiled at me. “Dr Modak, I agree with your concerns but you are still thinking conventionally”. He said

Haven’t you thought of CEI in the form of Common Environmental Monitoring Systems invested by private sector in cities and industrial areas? How about commonly designed and operated Environmental Information Centers that help in raising awareness, assist in decision making and help conduct scrutiny or independent evaluation? Disaster Management Centers around Industrial Estates is another example that can be considered as CEI.

I thought Professor was right. So much innovation is possible and experiences to share!

I realized we badly need a brainstorming on this subject at the national level. We must look into the Future of CEIs. Perhaps Mr. Hardik Shah, PS to the Hon Minister should consider holding such a meeting. He comes from the State of Gujarat that has maximum number of CETPs and Common Hazardous Waste Treatment & Disposal Facilities in the country,

You know my views now but I do hope Mr Hardik Shah is reading my blogs!


Cover image sourced from http://shreyanswater.tradeindia.com/common-effluent-treatment-plant-1252361.html


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Nights at the Ayurvedagram and the Ultimate Truth

[This is my 50th post  after the publication of my two books of blogs. I thought of celebrating the 50th post by writing on a topic that is little different. This post was written after a long and strange dream at the Ayurvedagram.]

I decided to spend two weeks in Ayurvedagram near Bangalore to address several of my health concerns. Most of my health problems were due to sheer negligence, lack of understanding and low priority given to my body and mind. But never too late, I thought. Ayurvedic therapy had worked for me in the past. I gave a long list of my problems to Dr Manmohan, the Chief Medical Officer. Dr Manmohan chalked out an elaborate plan for me for the required “correction” and “prevention”. I am sure coming up with such a plan was challenging to him.

I was tired of the multiple ailments however and wished that I could get another body for a change so that I could continue my work. But I knew that this would require some Godly intervention. So, when I was woken up at night by Lord Vishnu in Ayurvedagram, I was rather delighted.

Lord Vishnu heard my story patiently with a smile. He said “Dr Modak, you are still not understanding the Ultimate Truth and hence are worried about your health issues and thinking about the world of work.. Once you understand the truth, everything will be different and you will live differently”

I asked Lord how can I understand what you are saying.

“Well Dr Modak, I will have to “free” you for a while to experience. Come with me” said the Lord.

I soon realized that I had left my body. It was like a breeze as I was perhaps blessed. I was  floating in an astral form that had no more pains and the ailments. Lord Vishnu took my hand and navigated me.

We left the campus of Ayurvedagram, rose on the skyline of the Bangalore city, and gradually reached above the Indian peninsula where I could see both Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal. That was a fascinating view and it humbled me.

“We will go even further Dr Modak. We will exit the Earth shortly and move towards the Universe”. Lord Vishnu said.  His face had a different glow.

To me it was going to be a magic carpet ride and with none other than the Creator and Protector of the Universe. I considered myself  to be very fortunate.

In few minutes, we had left the Earth. The journey beyond was new and exciting to me.  After crossing several planets, we stopped.

“Now close your eyes Dr Modak” Lord Vishnu said. “You will soon realize the Ultimate Truth without me saying anything”

I closed my eyes.

I saw that nothing was existing contrary to what I believed. There was no earth and no planets.. and no mountains and the seas and no people. There was only light that encompassed the universe. There was a deep humming sound (Omkar – that is the primeval sound) giving vibrations. It looked like an everlasting or chirantan Brahmic universe with all the emptiness. And  yet it seemed complete.

And this universe was me.

Was that the Ultimate Truth?

I was in a trans.

After a while, Lord Vishnu asked me to open my eyes. I did not want to but I simply obeyed.

Lord Vishnu had taken by then his mighty form stretching the universe. I looked at his Viraat Swaroop or Vishvarupa. And I understood that I was Him too! We were not different.

Vishvarupa


Vishvarupa is considered the supreme form of Lord Vishnu, where the whole universe is described as contained in Him.


Lord Vishnu then assumed his humanoid form like before and navigated me back to the Earth and to the Ayurvedagram. We did not speak a word in this journey.  There was no need.

When Lord Vishnu put me back to my body, I realized that there was nothing much to worry or discuss about the ailments I was facing. There was nothing to fear as fear appeared irrelevant. Would you agree?

I realized that all I had to do was to put my body and mind to the best use I could – till I have.  Helping someone was logical as the one suffering was me and rejoicing in someone’s happiness was a joy – again to me.  I saw all the boundaries one perceives to be blurring.

But the realization of the Ultimate Truth put me to another difficult question. Knowing that nothing is real, should you be in the state of sthitaprajna?


The sthitaprajna is a free soul, ever steady in knowledge of Self. A sthitaprajna is also known as a jivanmukta, or one who is truly free while still living. Though engaged in actions, being free from ego and free from motive, the sthitaprajna is not a doer of actions. Though having a physical body, the sthitaprajna is merely a dweller within the body and is unidentified with it. The wisdom of the sthitaprajna is wisdom of a cosmic oneness. Ever established in the state of yoga, the sthitaprajna remains in constant union with God and, at the same time, is the ideal exemplar of karma-yoga, demonstrating steady wisdom through every action.


Attaining the state of sthitaprajna is perhaps ideal but certainly not easy.

I thought of asking guidance from the Lord on how to accomplish this difficult task when and if he visits me again in the nights at the Ayurdevagram. Having exposed me to the Ultimate Truth, I thought He better teach me how to be in such a state. I had several questions to ask.

But well, if you have the answers, then please let me know. I would love to get your insight and guidance.


Text on sthitaprajna taken from https://indiaspirituality.blogspot.in/2010/05/qualities-of-sthitaprajna.html


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The Story of Environmental Information Centre in India

It was June 1999. The Chambers at Taj Mansingh in New Delhi was booked for an important meeting. Those present included Mr. K Roypaul, Additional Secretary of Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Dr Dilip Biswas, Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Dr Subramanium, Director at MoEF, Richard Ackerman, Sector Director Environment, The World Bank; Hari Sankaran and Mahesh Babu from IL&FS Ltd. It was a small group and I was the presenter. Topic was Environmental Information Centre (EIC). The meeting began at 7 pm in the evening.

For many years, I was stressing the need to establish a national centre on Environmental Information. I saw its need for providing quality data in a comprehensive and timely manner to project proponents and consultants for conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). The regulators could use the Environmental Information Centre (EIC) to verify the baseline information provided and carry out regional and cumulative impact assessments to come up with recommendations on environmentally sound planning and development. EIC could mosaic the secondary data from key sources including remote sensed imageries and host this data and its interpretation on a WebGIS platform for the interest of all stakeholders including environmental NGOs and communities.  To ensure populating of the primary and current information, the data structures of the EIA reports could be standardized with mandatary data (and maps) uploads. EIC could also do the job of State Environmental Assessment and Reporting.  The ENVIS Centres of MoEF could be “connected” to the EIC to bring in and update thematic information on environment.

I was convinced that the EIC cannot happen solely with the Government. EIC had to be conceived as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). For promoting and operating EIC, private sector was needed and Government’s support was required to hook the data residing with various key ministries and departments and bring recognition. The attendees at the Chambers in Taj Mansingh therefore included Government  (Ministry and CPCB) and private sector with domain expertise and experience on PPP (IL&FS Ltd).  I was keen to involve academia as well such as Centre for Studies in Resources Engineering (CSRE) at IIT Bombay.

When EIC was presented and discussed, the World Bank was working with Ministry of Environment & Forests on the Environmental Management Capacity Building (EMCB) project. I made a plea to the World Bank and MoEF to use resources available in EMCB project to establish EIC in India. Richard Ackerman from the World Bank was present in the meeting for this purpose.

I had a very interesting position in this memorable meeting. I was a “friend” to MoEF, a consultant cum “insider” to the CPCB, and a consultant to The World Bank and IL&FS. I was thus the point of “intersection”. The discussions were therefore very cordial, full of ideas and support. Perhaps it was the best situation for me to make EIC happen.

And EIC happened. It got support of around 1 million USD from the EMCB Project and was installed as a pilot project with IL&FS Ecosmart Ltd.  States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat were chosen as the focal States for EIC to provide the service. Arc GIS was chosen as the platform. Nearly 30 “layers” of key information were prepared for the three focus States. To understand the “demand” and “supply” as well as commercials, several workshops were held. These workshops led to better understanding on the scope of the services of EIC.

IL&FS Ecosmart started “marketing” the services of EIC and several project proponents and consultants started placing orders for accessing information (as one stop shop) needed to conduct EIAs. Review committees at the MoEF used EIC service for verification of the information stated in the EIA report. The World Bank utilized EIC’s service for its projects, especially for screening and scoping. I was hoping that EIC will now escalate further to cover other States and provides service pan India as an independent institution.

The idea was to move EIC as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) after piloting for two years at IL&FS Ecosmart. SPV structure was necessary to make the operations autonomous and allow functioning like an independent business organization. Unfortunately, EIC as SPV did not happen. IL&FS Ecosmart could operate EIC only as a project. There were severe limitations as EMCB project got over. Mr. Roypaul had left MoEF by then and so also Dr Biswas at CPCB. The new team (especially Secretaries and Joint Secretaries) had reservations on the SPV concept.  The SPV concept for “servicing information” was perhaps too new or rather early at that time. After 2 years of pilot operation, EIC was shut down. I would squarely blame the MoEF and its bureaucracy for the closure or death of the EIC.

[ Last year the TSR Subramanium report stressed a dire need to set up EIC and to many it sounded as a new idea. Today, I understand that MoEFCC is envisaging a massive 5-year project in this direction with the help of National Informatics Centre (NIC). But I wonder whether such a fully Government owned and supply-driven model will ever work]

I remember I visited State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in Beijing for the World Bank in 2002. I mentioned about the concept of EIC and its benefits to the Director of SEPA. He was very attentive in listening to me. He called some four senior officials of SEPA immediately and engaged with discussions to get more insight. In the next mission I did to Beijing, I was told that EIC was established in China. It runs as a Government project today and not as a PPP – a structure that I would have ideally preferred. It lacks therefore the innovation element that is essential when you work with dynamic, diverse and BIG environmental data.  The Centre however delivers the data to the stakeholders and supports the EIA process. The Chinese implement, once convinced and not just talk.

Today several countries operate EIC. Most EICs are Government driven and some are Government owned but operated/managed by Private Sector or by Extensions of Universities. The latter seem to work better and are more efficient and effective. EIC in India must look at such hybrids.

My company, Environmental Management Centre LLP, operates a “mini EIC” that provides customized environmental information service to our clients. This service is getting popular. The key is not to provide just the raw data but provide insightful interpretation after application of data analytics as well as modeling. Examples of such applications are change detection to see impact of thermal plumes over time in the coastal areas, district level mapping of water stress that is based on water availability, quality and uncertainty due to climate change and  mapping of diversity indices of birds and bats around the wind farms etc. Operation of this “mini-EIC” helps my team to understand the dynamics of environmental data and importantly its role in decision making.

There have been however considerable improvements in data repositories and sharing of environmental information in India. Right to Information Act has perhaps been one key factor for the “push”.   The websites of regulators like Maharashtra Pollution Cntrol Board now provide considerable information with spatial visualization and the website of National Green Tribunal is rich with regular updates. Bhuvan database is another example that provides map based information. We will soon see dash boards in  smart cities based on real time data – that may contain important environmental information.

I still hope that EIC at national level on an overarching basis happens. Given the developments in IT and operations of several thematic and geographically distributed databases across institutions, its structure will have to be quite different than what I conceived in 1999. It may be in the form of a Mega-Portal sewing several databases for an organized access but with “intelligence”. Creation of indicators will be an important element of the analytics apart from “change detection”. I wish that we book Chambers at the Taj Mansingh once again for a discussion on EIC in this new context.

But if this meeting happens, I will certainly miss the team that was present in the Taj Chambers in 1999. Those encouraging and enriching discussions and the vision expressed on EIC will never be forgotten.


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Will you Marry Me?

All those who fall in love – either speak or listen to this asking “Will you marry me?”

Many believe that to say “Will you marry me?” requires a great courage. You are also at the risk of receiving a negative response. And if the answer is negative, then there is a greater risk and a pain if you further asked “Why? or “Why not?”. One should never make that stupid mistake.

If the answer is Yes, then many are dumb founded and don’t know what next to do. Few smart ones, insert a ring in the partner’s finger or some bold ones give a long hug and plant a deep kiss. This moment is cherished throughout the life irrespective of the regrets later!

I came across five seemingly straight forward steps in proposing a marriage.

Step 1: Make sure that you’re both ready for marriage. Before you take the plunge, you should know if you’re really ready to be together for the long haul of life. …(I know its hard many times to be “that sure”. But you need to be an optimist).

Step 2: Pick the right ring,  before you propose…. (This Step is as real practical. Note that this will be some investment)

Step 3: Pick the right time. …(don’t ask when your partner is in some stress and when he/she cannot be receptive or attentive to what you say)

Step 4: Pick the perfect location. ...(a deserted beautiful beach? a romantic top terrace of a hotel overlooking city at night? Or in a plane flying at 35000 ft when the sign of fasten seat belts off? – you need to be imaginative here)

Step 5: Ask the right way.(with all the passion, grace and love; in a voice that is thicker than usual, holding the hand in a firm grip when you speak)

It seems that if you follow these 5 steps, and rightly so, then you would probably hear the answer Yes, see a loving and assuring smile messaging an unspoken response as YES.

Many however follow the usual style of communication like sending flowers with a (surprise) note, post a love letter with a box of chocolates, get help from friends who sing in choir “Will you marry him/her?” with a brass band or a drum line in the background.  Alabama’s (a music group) song “Will you marry me?” and a solo by John Berry are often played.

All these tricks are interesting but not exciting.

There are web pages that present a compilation on different ways to propose a marriage. See the 58 tips on so called romantic ways to propose and 100 such ideas

But I find that these resources and tips are rather drab, conventional and not that innovative. So I started asking my friends how they did it.

My friend Bill working in an investment firm in New York was in love with a colleague. They used to partner in many assignments.

Opposite their office was a McDonald outlet where they used to take a bite because of the bizzare work pressures. A branch of American Express Bank was next to the McDonalds. Bill asked  his girlfriend  while crossing the street “how about opening a joint account in Amex”. The message was subtle (a bit fit for professionals in the financial world!) but the proposition of the joint account set the ball rolling! They eventually married.

One of my Thai friends Veerawan was courting with a boyfriend for quite a while with no progress on asking “Will you marry me?”. One day, Veerawan was lunching with Surasak (name of her boyfriend). She pulled out a pocket book from her purse that is used as a guide for naming newborns. Veerawan asked “Sura, what name should we choose if we get the boy first?” Sura chose one quitely – as if they were already married!! There was no need to ask “Will you marry me?”

But story by good friend Aron from Manila is interesting. Tes (his girl-friend) and Aron were close friends in the college. They used to go out with friends on the weekends for music. Both loved to read books and later have a conversation about them. Alan used to paint and was pretty good at portraits.

One of their favorites place to meet was the Books and Border Café located on the Tomas Morato Street in Diliman Quezon. The Café held a stock of 650 books and served great coffees.

Aron and Tes would pick up an interesting book, read the book for a while, sit quietly in the Café on the bean bags and then after an hour or so sit on the table and order a coffee. They would exchange the books and discuss their reading experiences. This would generally happen on the weekdays as the Café was less crowded giving them more peace and privacy.

Book and Border Cafe in Manila

Aron was in love with Tes and wanted to propose marriage, but their closeness and friendship became a barrier to express his love.

The book shelves of the Border café had unique book markers. You could write your name on the book markers, so the next time you visit the Café, you could pick up the book that is not yet finished and reach the place to continue reading instantly. Most popular books boasted several book marks, and you could see names of people who are reading the book “along” with you. That was quite interesting.

The book markers

Aron picked up a book, wrote on the book marker his name and then wrote in capital letters “Will you marry me Tes?”. Tes was engrossed reading another book.

When they sat on the table for conversations, Aron passed on his book to Tes and started to talk about it. “It’s a great story of life of a painter like me”. He said.

Tes was turning the pages of the book as he spoke. “Read the section that I book marked – that may interest you. The story has a twist at the end” said Aron while browsing through the pages of Tes’s book. He avoided looking at her.

Tes reached the book marker. And the communication happened …. She closed the book, gave a warm smile to Aron and softly said “I don’t need to read the rest of the book now” The story was clear and over. That was the twist!

Aron and Tess married in the Church within a month. The Owner of the Books and Border was warmly invited.

I asked my Professor friend where did he propose to his late wife. “In Samover Café at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai”. He said while lighting his cigar. “It was just past 8 pm. The main door got closed for the day. I paid 10 Rs tip  to the waiter to let us stay. He told us that we could  leave from the back door after 10 minutes that had an automatic latch. We were the only couple in the Café. Everything happened in those 10 minutes –  We did not speak. But our eyes did. When we stepped out of Samover, we knew that we were to get married”

Cafe Samover in Mumbai

Professor was perhaps lost in the memories as he sat quiet.

I thought that the Professor was right. His wife who was a famous artist and a noble soul, deserved place only like Samover for that unspoken “Will you marry me?”.

Professor had chosen the right place and the right time.

Unfortunately today, Samover is closed.


Started by Usha Khanna in 1964, Cafe Samovar in Jehangir Art Gallery was an icon of Mumbai’s cultural landscape and for decades. It served as a haven for the city’s creative minds across the arts. This cafe was a theater for dramatic performances, a meeting place for executives, especially lawyers, young lovers and the students.


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Lord Kubera shows interest in Green Finance

 

(As usual  the post is humor in satire with no offences to anyone cited. And the story is not real)

Last week, YES Bank organized a Symposium on Opportunities in Green Finance in Mumbai in partnership with FMO, Proparco, KfW and DeG.

There was a lot of crowd as the Seminar was free and the venue was Grand Hyatt which has reputation to serve good food.

Mr. Rana Kapoor gave an awsome welcome speech that was more than the welcome as it narrated the pioneering work of the YES Bank in green financing, especially on the green bonds. He reeled off numbers that indicated the need for green investments in trillions of dollars for the attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From FMO, Linda Broekhuizen, Chief Investment Officer, echoed the need stressing the importance of partnerships and partnerships and partnerships.

“We must all come together and unleash innovative financial instruments/products to leverage and create desired impact” most speakers and delegates said this while standing in the queues. Even the waiters who were serving tea/coffee (and cookies) during the break said this.

I was at the registration counter to pick up the environmentally friendly cloth delegate bag and was astonished to see Lord Kubera standing in the queue.


Those who don’t know Lord Kubera

Kubera is the Lord of Wealth and the god-king of the semi-divine Yakshas in Hindu mythology. It is a misconception that Lakshmi is Goddess of wealth. Actually, Kubera is God of wealth while Lakhsmi is Goddess of fortune. As fortune is usually associated with wealth, a misconception has arisen. Kubera watches over the earth’s storehouse of gold, silver, jewels, pearls and nine NIDHIS (i.e. special treasures). He is the head of the treasury.


“Kubera” means “deformed or monstrous” or “ill-shaped one”; indicating his deformities. He is supposed to have three legs, only eight teeth and one eye. Lord Kubera was therefore in a disguise. He chose a plump body and was dressed like a businessman, with gold and diamond rings in all ten fingers, a thick gold chain around the neck. He was carrying an expensive leather briefcase (presumably consisting gold coins)

Lord Kubera

I went close to him and tapped on his shoulder “Lord Kubera, how come you are here for this Symposium”. Lord Kubera was shocked that I recognized him – “Shh Dr Modak, don’t say this so loudly. I am here to seek opportunities for green finance. It seems that the human race is looking for trillions of dollars for investments that are green. As I manage the treasury department of the Gods, I thought of coming over, network and look for potential opportunities. But Dr Modak, what is a green investment by the way? – is this something different than something everyone does?”

“Oh yes, it is different” I said this while ushering Lord Kubera to the round tables that had placards saying Reserved. “Green investments mean investments in renewable energy, low carbon transportation, sustainable waste management, climate smart agriculture etc. something that will combat our threats to the security of resources and improve our resilience to climate change”

“I don’t understand a bit of your jargon Dr Modak. Common sense is that we should invest in projects and programs that have a promise of good outcomes and importantly to the benefit of all. All investments we make, must be environmentally as well as socially green by default – isn’t it?. Will you call the “other types” of investments as brown or red?” Lord Kubera said this while picking up a lemon candy from the bowl.

I told the Lord that common sense is uncommon and he should speak to President Trump. Perhaps Trump’s  idea of building a wall between United States and Mexico with solar panels may give him another perspective of so called Green but irrelevant investment. Lord Kuber asked whether President Trump will apply for grants from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for this solar powered wall. I kept shut.

After the opening ceremony, my good friend Mr. Santosh Jayaram from KPMG was moderating the panel speaking on Green Investments – Experience and Expectations. When Lord Kubera heard the expectations, he whispered to me – Oh the requirements are pretty large and I am quite excited to offer cheap finance – but why don’t the governments and businesses simply “re-appropriate” and “re-prioritize” the existing program of investments so as to free up the finance for a better cause. It will be foolish to continue the dumb, irrelevant and damaging investments and look for a special finance for green investments. Has this perspective been studied?”.

I thought Lord Kubera made a valid point. Such studies are perhaps not yet done and should be carried out. I decided to let Santosh Jayaram know so that he could perhaps bag a consultancy assignment from Lord Kubera. This could be an important takeaway for KPMG from the Symposium.

There was a lunch break post the panels. The speakers and organizers were taken to a separate room so that they could eat in peace and network amongst each other. I decided to take Lord Kubera to this special lunch room.

I introduced Lord Kubera to respected Mr. Rana Kapoor.

“Oh, so you are the one, Kubera – the God of Wealth!” exclaimed Mr. Rana. “We are so honored to have you with us”. Mr. Rana said this while passing Lord Kubera a bowl of lentil soup with cream. “And Thank you so much Dr Modak for getting him here”

Mr. Rana announced Lord Kubera’s presence to all the speakers and organizers. He told the international visitors from FMO, Proparco, KfW and DeG more about Lord Kubera and the role played by him in financing the world for the past 5000 years or so. The representatives of the mighty State Bank of India and Housing Development and Finance Corporation (HDFC) also praised his presence.

“The presence of Lord Kubera here must be told to the Press” Mr. Rana instructed Ms. Namita Vikas Group President & Global Head, Climate Strategy & Responsible Banking of the YES Bank. “This will be yet another laurel adding to the list of the YES Bank” he said this while clicking a photograph from his smartphone.

Lord Kubera explained the purpose of his presence at the Symposium “We are genuinely interested to finance – I mean the green investments” he said this while looking at me.

Linda Broekhuizen of FMO came straight to the point. “Mr. Kubera, what are your terms and conditions please?”

“Oh, really nothing – there will be no interest. The loan repayment period will be what you choose” Lord Kubera said this while sipping the soup.

“Wow” said Linda – “This sounds rather heavenly”

Mr. Xavier Echasseriau of Proparco asked “What is the currency you will be dealing with? And who will take the forex risk?” (I was wondering what is forex risk in Lord’s context)

Well Mr. Xavier, we finance using gold coins.” Lord Kubera answered and opened his expensive leather bag. He displayed the gold coins he was carrying. These are only samples – you can check the purity. We have unlimited reserve.”

Mr. Xavier was shocked.

Lord Kubera continued

“On Dr Modak’s advice, I am proposing to route the moneys through financing intermediaries and special purpose funds. Please help me in their identification and the criteria I should be considering”

Mr. Rana Kapoor said “This is real easy. You start with the YES Bank as we are the first in Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) in this country in all the respects – be it policy or  operations or even the publicity. There are a few others you may like to consider too. Just ensure that they have signed up for UNEP Finance Initiative (costs only 5000 USD a year with no major obligations except echoing the aspirations). In addition, they must have a document on Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF)”

I thought of butting in here – “Lord Kubera, Mr. Rana is right. But I will recommend that you talk to the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB). Both these development financing institutions have forced several financing intermediaries to prepare the ESMF documentation. It has now become a template. The best part is that it does not majorly transform the actual investment operations. It’s a great facade however to show-case”

Most present agreed with me and told Lord Kubera that they will sign up UNEP FI and produce a document on ESMF. “These two requirements will drive the Green Finance” said the waiter serving deserts.

There was one person sitting in the room who was not comfortable with the discussions. I think he was new to the club.

“Lord Kubera – your financing terms are crazy. I don’t know how your treasury survived last 5000 years following this practice of zero interest and long-term lending. Have you ever carried out any due diligence or impact assessment”

“Good question sir” said Lord Kubera “We have been essentially investing on creation, conservation and enhancement of natural assets. Because of poor management of these assets by the mankind, we have landed into Non-Performing Assets (NPA) on the earth. Nothing seems to be performing. I am consulting Hon Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on how to write off these NPAs. He has the wisdom and the right experience.”


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Eating With

We go and eat out often. In most cases, we do this to be with friends. Well, eating something special (e.g. a different cuisine) and being in a different ambience is also an idea. But what matters is the people we eat with. This makes the occasion memorable. You see pictures on the Facebook where we see more photos of friends sitting on the dining table and very rarely photos of the dishes we eat!

Most of us visit some of the famous restaurants in the cities we travel to. Each city has a list of iconic restaurants that are recommended as a must (like you see on TripAdvisor). We make appointments or book tables at these restaurants to experience the eating and then talk about it on WhatsApp.

And there is also a “hidden” list of little restaurants that are tugged in the narrow by lanes – generally in the old quarters of the city. Owners of these restaurants are there for generations, they don’t change even the furniture and so forget changing the menu! They follow the traditions and that’s why you love them.

I have been patronizing many such restaurants. These restaurants were introduced to me by my friends because of their cuisine, ambience and uniqueness. A concoction of all the three added with friendliness and generosity of the host made the lunches and dinners at these restaurants rather memorable. But above all, as I earlier said, you always remember the people you ate with, the conversations you enjoyed and the friendship that gets brewed. I simply hate business dinners. Informal sessions with friends are the best.

I remember dining at a little restaurant in Paris. The restaurant was close to Eifel tower. There was a deal. You could book Chef’s time (at some extra cost) to have him dine with you. The Chef would customize the dinner and the wines to everybody’s taste and discuss French cuisine with stories to give you a true gastronomical experience.

Six of us went to the restaurant on a Friday evening. My local host booked for Chef Andre. Andre set up our tables on the street outside the restaurant with cane chairs having a round base (like the Irani restaurants in Mumbai). Andre had a stocky and large body with chubby cheeks and a moustache similar to the Bar Tender in the movie Irma la deuce. He had a happy face and was full of life. He spoke broken English. But his daughter Noel who served the dishes could speak much better.  She was a very pretty and witty girl.

The dinner was wonderful. Andre asked us questions on what we liked, where we wanted to be adventurous and what were our allergies (like sea food for me). He then thought, closed his eyes for a while and said something in French giving instructions to Noel. Both father and daughter got inside restaurant and took one us to the kitchen – to watch cooking. This experience was great. We took turns. The dinner and the discourse lasted for 3 hours and all of us enjoyed the experience. At the end, when we were having the deserts with wine, Noel sang a French ballad in a soft voice – that looked impromptu. Andre played a box guitar to accompany and he was pretty good too. I later learnt that the ballad was about saying good bye when you were about to fall in love!

Talking about singing, have you been to the singing waiters and cooks restaurant in Manila? The Singing Cooks & Waiters is the first, the original and the only musical restaurant of its kind in the world. The restaurant was conceived by Mr. Ongpauco. I went there for the first time in 1995 with a bunch of friends. We not only listened to some great philipino voices during dinner but discovered musical talent amongst us that we did not know about! A colleague of mine who was workaholic and always had a constipated face, sang a lovely Tom Jones number. We were simply astonished and floored to witness his hidden talent. The ambience and the mood of the restaurant had certainly made the difference.

But there are occasions we want to be at a quiet place basically for conversations with no agenda. I would recommend two interesting restaurants in India for this purpose. One is the Lodi Garden restaurant in Delhi and the other Kairavali in Bangalore.

But let me talk here about Lodi.

Known for its romantic setting & natural surroundings, Lodi is touted as Delhi’s favorite alfresco restaurant. I have had most interesting conversations in the garden portion of this restaurant with several page 3 personalities of India – influential and learned people who speak words that walk with you after you dine. Lodi is essentially a non-institutional high profile cultural hub. The best time to be there is evenings – a bit early like 7 30 pm and start with cocktails. The wine bar at Lodi boasts of an extensive wine list and a 16-tap wine machine and is popular for its innovative cocktails.

The best part of Lodi’s is the sparse placement of tables in the garden area and proximity to the trees. You feel that you are sitting and chatting in the garden of your own house. You also feel private while conversing with someone intimate to you. You feel like confiding to share your concerns, worries as well as joys and happy moments in life –  but with no agenda.  The conversations simply sail or drift like a ship with a slow but steady wind on a lazy sea. Often you don’t even realize that you have reached an unknown destination in the conversations.

I remember a quiet dinner with a close friend of mine at Lodi’s when she disclosed to me that she was hit by a cancer of bone marrow and had only six months to live. There was silence when she spoke about this dreadful disease. The truth was harsh but the trees around us were patient and kind. They listened to her agonies. They didn’t even whisper. I saw her unmoved with a courageous face. I held her hand while walking out of the restaurant – and firmly so – to let her know how much pained I was. There was also  a promise to express that I will  stand by next to her in these difficult times. It was a dinner to realize how do you take a trauma with courage and elegance.

But let me not depress you. Well, have you heard about EatWith? If you visit the website, it says that “The future of dining is here”. EatWith invites you to join at a “communal table” to lunch/dine located in 200+ cities and 50 countries around the world. The concept is simple. You log in and access the 650 hosts who are profiled on the EatWith. Hosts are offering lunch or dining service from their homes because they love cooking, meeting with strangers and in the process, make some money. You select the host based on the menus displayed and make a booking. You are generally in small numbers, so could do interesting conversations, make new friends and of course converse with the chef host to learn more about the recipes.

On my recommendations, a friend of mine visited Chef Yves in the famous market La Boqueria in the Raval district of Barcelona. There were four customers who met Chef Yves at the market at 5 30 pm. The Chef walked them through the colorful market stands nearby, and introduced different to them  local and fresh products that are the basis of Catalan gastronomy.

After the interactive food tour, they were taken to Chef’s personal kitchen in the little village of Esplugues de Llobregat, 15 minutes driving from Barcelona. Here they were then taught way around his catalan kitchen while following the instructions for the preparation of a delicious 3 course dinner that took about 2 hours. Every participant was given a cutting board, the required tools and an apron to take an active role in the cooking class. After cooking was done, the dinner was set up on a rooftop terrace that overlooked Barcelona – city warmly lit with lights at the night.

I asked my friend why this dinner was so memorable to him. He was a bit hesitant to answer my question. But when coaxed, he told me that he was in a very interesting company of three women for the cooking and dinner. He got famously along with one of the women, and both of them kind of flipped on each other. The conversations got a bit personal too – and more so with each glass of green wine that the Chef generously served. After few drinks, Chef Yves brought meatballs stuffed with the cuttlefish tentacles and stewed in a fish broth. The woman asked my friend to get up and walk down the staircase with her. My friend obeyed. As they reached the patio downstairs, she held him tight and gave him a long and a deep kiss. My friend was simply shocked and dazed.

The woman said “Dude, I had to kiss you right now as I don’t like the cuttlefish”

Oh, I then understood the excitmnent  and the fizz of eating with!

 

Cover image sourced from https://rapidiq.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/eating-with-bare-hands/


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Modelling with Parsimony and Living with Prudence

 

[A bit of a technical blog – but with messages for you to decifer]

I went to see my Professor Friend at IIT Bombay. I had not taken his appointment. He was in the class teaching Water Quality Modelling to the postgraduate students.

When Professor saw me waiting outside, he paused and asked me to join.” Come in Dr Modak” he said, “I have just begun the first class”.

I took a seat in the last row.

Professor was introducing the basics of Streeter-Phelps model for modelling Dissolved Oxygen (DO) and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) in rivers.


For those who don’t know about the Streeter and Phelps  DO-BOD Model. The Streeter and Phelps model describes how DO decreases in a river or stream along a certain distance by degradation due to presence of BOD. The equation was derived by H. W. Streeter, a sanitary engineer at Cincinnati in the US, and Earle B. Phelps, a consultant for the U.S. Public Health Service. The model was built in 1925 based on field data from the Ohio River. The model makes use of two parameters viz. reaeration rate that depends on the hydraulic variables like depth and velocity and the deoxygenation rate that depends on the level and type of the organic matter present in the river.


Professor used few slides to explain the Streeter-Phelps model and the governing equations that attempted to explain the oxygen deficit. The model looked simple and rather straightforward asking for minimalistic data to help predict the outcomes.

“You can use this model for deciding the concentration of BOD that you could allow to ensure that we do not run into situation of high DO deficit that could affect the aquatic life”.

Professor solved one example problem the showed how limits to BOD can be set on this basis. He then expanded the problem statement to the case of multiple discharges of wastewater over a long river stretch with water withdrawals and tributaries joining.

He explained how the model can be used to decide not just the level of treatment of BOD but also decide on the minimum flow needed in the river to ensure dilution and assimilation of the wastewater.

Students enjoyed the application potential of the Streeter-Phelps model. Models must be taught with application perspective I said to myself.

Professor then paused and asked the students to critique the model. “Are we missing anything?” He asked one of the brighter students.

“Sir, I think the model misses the fact that wastewater contains suspended solids. These solids when settle in the bottom, the particulate BOD will reduce. We must include a sedimentation rate in the model. This rate  will depend on the river velocity at the point of wastewater discharge”

I thought he was right.

Another student commented “Well, whatever settles will still remain part of the system – the sediments at the bottom will continue exert an oxygen demand, albeit at a different degradation rate perhaps because the organisms responsible could be different”

“You are right” Professor said – we will recognize this aspect as Sediment Oxygen Demand (SOD).

A girl with spectacles got up and said – “How about the process of nitrification Sir?”

Professor said “Dr Modak, can I ask you to elaborate on this very important point?”

I liked this idea of participatory teaching. So, I walked to the blackboard and wrote the following

Ammonium in the wastewater is oxidized to nitrate under aerobic conditions as

NH4+ + 2O2 → NO3− + H2O + 2H+

Ammonium oxidation can be treated as part of BOD, so that BOD = CBOD + NBOD, where CBOD is the carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand and NBOD is nitrogenous BOD.

The change in oxygen deficit due to oxidation of ammonium can be described with help of the nitrification rate and ammonium-nitrogen concentration. The model must expand.

The original humble Streeter-Phelps model thus started to look more complicated. And as if this was not enough, Professor introduced the role of photosynthesis and respiration. Photosynthesis and respiration are performed by algae and by macrophytes. Respiration is performed by bacteria and aquatic animals. Inclusion of photosynthesis brought the role of sunlight.

After some more brainstorming, all of us developed a bit monstrous water quality model (QUAL II) as shown below

Architecture of QUAL II model

“You can if you wish even further complicate this model – Professor said. “Maybe you like to build a model for a lake that is tending to be eutrophic (i.e. overloaded with nutrients and algae) and partially stratified during winter. This can be challenging” Professor winked.

The class was now about to end.

While summing up, Professor said “And friends, we can continue building more and more complex  water quality models for the interest of completeness. But remember that there is an optimal model complexity that we must recognize. Simpler is the model, more is the model uncertainty in prediction due to its frugal structure. But more is the model complexity, more are the parameters that come into play and hence predictions can become uncertain due parameter uncertainty. Imagine the complex model like QUAL II that requires data on more than 20 parameters (rates). Our poor understanding on these parameters can  lead to a “chaos” or “noise”, leading to a performance close to the simple  Streeter Phelps model. You must realize that your degradation rate in the simple Streeter and Phelps model will now become a surrogate with sedimentation and the reaeration rate will factor contribution due to photosynthesis on a “lumped basis”

I did know how much of this philosophy of modelling was understood by the students, but I was sure at least few did as the Professor projected his last slide.

When we reached Professor’s office, I asked for a coffee. Professor lighted his cigar.

“The most important message is understanding the Parsimony. The parsimony principle is basic to all science and tells us to choose the simplest scientific explanation that fits the evidence i.e. involves fewest entities. When scholar William Ockham wrote “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” which later became known as the Law of Parsimony, it wasn’t to describe tightfisted stinginess but to say that all things being equal, the simplest explanation may times tends to be the right one. This realization is most important for a happy, successful and sustainable life”

I realized the topic had transcended the subject of water quality modelling

Professor took a deep puff

“I’m not saying that we don’t try to push ourselves to do the difficult or complex things in life. What it means is that we should look for the simplest way to achieve our goals and focus on the minimum but relevant tasks … while still doing them well. Remember – sometimes Streeter Phelps model can lead to same management decisions as arrived by a complex QUAL-II model”

He continued

“Some say parsimony means being stingy. I disagree. By saying “No, I can’t do that” may allow us to do what we want – that is really must be done or we would rather do – with our available time and energy. It has taken me many years to get my head around to “listen to myself”, look at my health and priorities of life”

“So, Professor, are you now living life on the principles of parsimony – that is hovering between complexity (due to your inherent curiosity) and a modest completeness (just good enough for your inner satisfaction?”. Professor did not answer. He looked outside the window.

I could not hesitate but ask “And have you reached the optima?”

“Well, Dr Modak, we will talk on this some other time. Needs another round of coffee” Professor got up from the chair. “I have to leave now as I have reach the meeting point for carpooling. See, I haven’t given up the comfort of riding a car but I am taking a simple step of sharing resources to reduce travel costs, curtail emissions and converse with new friends on topics other than environment. Its parsimony with prudence that makes life worth living and interesting

I understood now the significance of Streeter-Phelps equation. “Professor, when is the next lecture on water quality modelling?” I asked.

Professor smiled


Cover image sourced from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/partial-least-squares-structural-equation-modeling-ali-asgari


Lift Kara De (LKD) is a carpooling initiative taken up by the enthusiastic residents of Whispering Palms Society in Kandivali, Mumbai, India. The group consists of about 256 carpoolers so far with numbers increasing every few months. Santosh Shetty, one of the key members of the Lift Kara De group had approached Ekonnect (my section 8 company) for calculating their individual/group emission reductions, fuel and money savings achieved so far from their ongoing carpooling activity.

Ekonnect team members estimated these values based on the data received from the LKD group members which comprised of number of rides, distance traveled, number of individuals in a car, type of fuel and years of carpooling.

The results showcased that in a short duration of 5 years LKD members had achieved 1, 91,000 Kg of Carbon dioxide emission reductions.

If you want to read this fascinating story , then do download this presentation


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