Ban the Bans: Instead, Innovate

Professor was in anguish when we met at his office. He was taking a flight to New Delhi for a day long meeting with the PMO. The subject of the meeting was “introduction of various bans”. The PMO wanted to know what should be banned for the interest of environment and at the same time give a green millage to the PM in the forthcoming elections.   Professor was asked to come with innovative ideas.  And as usual, there wasn’t much time to think.

“Professor, we just banned all kinds of plastic in the State of Maharashtra. Plastic is now banned in 18 States of India. Why don’t you announce now a National Ban on Plastic on June 5 – the World Environment Day (WED). That announcement will look bold and impressive, sporting a spirit of coalition between the political parties. It will be as powerful as the demonetization where we banned the 500 Rs currency notes. By the way, you may know that Plastic pollution is the theme of this year’s WED.” I suggested.

“Good point Dr Modak, time has now come to announce a nation-wide ban on plastic”. Professor said – “But I am looking for new ideas.  These ideas must be practical as well as robust – not like banning of the beef for instance or banning of alcohol sale in shops within 500 meters of the highways”

“OK, let me think” I said

“Remember, Dr Modak” Professor continued “Bans do provide some immediate benefits to their proponents over a short term. Although bans communicate the “right intentions”, they divide the general public into those who support and those who oppose the ban. This can lead to a political issue in addition to the fragmentation that both ruling party and opposition parties are trying to achieve on the basis of caste and religion. It can spoil the so-called number game”

Professor was right. In the short term, some of the bans do show positive results. In the initial months of prohibition in the US for instance, there was a 30% drop in alcohol consumption and decline in arrests for drunkenness. But later, the liquor trade moved underground. The underworld took over the “business” and got more and more organized. The liquor consumption levels went back to original score and new problems like spurious liquor, gang wars and sale of other narcotic substances emerged. So, on the long term, the liquor ban led to a worse situation.

I was surprised that Professor cited an example of US and not of the State of Gujarat.

Most bans generate psychological reactance. According to psychologist Jack Brehm, humans hate to lose any freedom. When people believe that their freedom has been threatened, they enter into a reactance motivational state and revolt against throttling of their freedom. In fact, the individuals get an increased motivation to indulge in the very behavior that is restricted. (Read article by  Biju Dominic).  A movie that is banned by the Board of Sensors is perhaps most watched. So, does banning really help?

Impact Assessment on the Ban on Importation of Used Computers

During the reading of the 2009/2010 financial budget, Government of Uganda imposed a ban on importation of used computers with a view of combating the accumulation of electronic waste in the country. Whilst this was for good intention, there was a general outcry that this ban stifled economic activities. As a result, traders and other stakeholders vehemently resisted the ban and petitioned against it. There was need to review the ban on used computers because it lacked clear specifications of old, used, new, assembled, and refurbished computers. For example, a computer used for only two weeks is considered as used computer hence banned. Based on their petitions and other considerations Cabinet on 2nd November 2011 directed the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development in consultation with the Ministry of ICT to review the importation of used computers. Need  to spread the use of computers through provision of affordable computers was recognized. The study assessed the impact of the ban on importation of used computers in Uganda and used the outcomes and recommendations of the assignment to form a basis for reviewing and lifting of the ban.

A Study on the Socio-Economic Impact of Mining Ban on the Households in Goa’s Mining Belt

Mining is one of the economic activities practiced in the small state of Goa apart from agriculture, tourism and fishing. Mining industry brought lucrative incomes, but it also comes with a lot of environmental hazards. The protests and agitation that took place against rampant mining operations owing to the Chinese boom in the last decade compelled the Supreme Court to order ban in September 2012. A study was carried out to assess the impact of this ban on the socio-economic characteristics of the households in the mining belt of Goa. The study revealed a change in the occupational structure and suggested the need to educate people about the nature of mining industry and thus a need to invest into alternate income avenues instead of entirely relying on the mining industry

Considering the alarming fall of groundwater levels in India, I told Professor to consider banning of pumps in the water stressed areas.

“Well, Dr Modak, this is a good suggestion but implementation of the “pump ban” is extremely difficult. The farmers In India are already agitated due to so many other issues. So, let the groundwater deplete for another 2 years till we are done with the forthcoming election– and in any case this is a problem that is mostly underground and not easily seen”

“Oh, you are quite right Professor, So it you are looking for some visibility. Then why don’t we ban vehicles in certain areas of our mega cities where air pollution is a serious issue?”

Germany’s highest administrative court recently ruled that vehicles can be banned from some city streets as part of efforts to improve air quality in urban areas, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s automakers and the diesel technology developers.

“This is a good suggestion Dr Modak, Professor said “But deciding no-vehicle zones in a city is not going to be easy, How would you handle the parking issue as people will have to park vehicles near to the no-vehicle zone and then walk?”

I thought Professor was right. But I did not give up

“How about banning sale of diesel -powered vehicles altogether? In California such a ban will be effective from 2040 giving enough time to phase out. You could impose such a ban in Delhi’s NCR to start with say by 2020 as a promise during election”

Professor said that all the diesel vehicles in the NCR will then ply in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan transferring the emissions due to combustion of diesel.

“Dr Modak, what do you think of banning harmful products and substances – like cigarettes, asbestos and pesticides? These bans will help protecting the health of the people and environment of our country”

Did you know that in Canada, there is a Ban Asbestos Canada (BAC) group, a coalition of labor, public health, environmental and human rights consisting academic and scientific experts, concerned citizens, victims and their families? In December 2016, the federal government of Canada announced a comprehensive ban on asbestos and asbestos containing products by 2018”

Well Professor, you know how difficult it is to impose such bans in India. Firstly, you will lose a huge amount of tax revenue especially on cigarettes and pesticides. Further, reasons why we are banning such substances are so hard to communicate as the nexus between health, safety and environment is generally not understood by the Indian common citizens. I am aware that we don’t give any reason when we ban anything, neither people ask about the “science” behind banning but still ….”

Professor lit his cigar and looked outside the window. He could sense my discomfort.

I remembered the term Policy Impact Assessment (PIA). PIAs are performed in few countries when there is a proposition for changes in the policy frameworks especially if bans are to be introduced.

Banning E-Waste from Victorian Landfills (Case of Policy Impact Assessment)

E-waste is growing up to three times faster than general municipal waste in Australia and covers a range of items we use and discard from our daily working and home lives, including televisions, computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances and white goods. These items contain both hazardous materials, which can harm the environment and human health, and valuable materials which are scarce and worth recovering.

Today, the Victorian Government in Australia is seeking views from the community and industry on the proposed approach to managing electrical and electronic waste or ‘e-waste’ in Victoria. A package of proposed measures has been developed to reduce e-waste from landfill, increase resource recovery and support jobs and investment in the recycling sector.

It is important for all Victorians to have a say on the details of the proposed changes and the Government proposes to use this feedback to refine the arrangements for the ban on e-waste from landfill. The timeline for the policy package is from 4 October 2017 to 25 June 2018, followed by implementation till June 2019

To guide this process, the Victorian Government prepared a 200+ pages exhaustive document on Policy Impact Assessment.

“Oh, this is too time consuming a process” – Professor said. “We are here in a hurry. Don’t tell me that you want us to do Policy Impact Assessment of banning plastic? Let me think in the flight”. Professor left for New Delhi.

While getting back home, I was thinking.

Instead of the bans, should we not consider new solutions or better alternatives? We need to bring on board innovators who can make a difference. Let’s stop fooling ourselves about the efficacy of bans and actually roll up our sleeves and do some hard work.

And involve people and all the key stakeholders – Follow a process.

So, ban the bans and instead innovate.


Cover image sourced from

If you like this Post, then follow me by clicking on the button at the top right of the blog or circulate amongst your colleagues


In Just a Minute

Professor and I decided to meet in our usual Café for our weekly chat session. We decided to meet at 10 30 am to avoid the office rush.

But still, I was late by a few minutes. Professor was already at the table in the patio. He waved at me.

We ordered for the usual Ethiopian coffee with some ginger biscuits.

Professor looked into his watch and said

“Dr Modak, you are late by five minutes. Do you know what happens to the world in a minute? Have you ever thought about it?

I said, “Professor, nothing much happens in a minute and it takes years to bring in a change. Over the years, I have learnt to be patient when it comes to time. Time changes but not the world”

Professor did not like my attitude. May be I sounded philosophical. He lit his cigar.

“Do you know that every minute  more than 2,000 tons of garbage is generated on this earth? And more than 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a by-product of burning fossil fuels.

In 60 seconds, the world will consume more than 5  million kgs of food. However, during that same minute, the world will also waste about 2  million kgs of food.

UPS in the US alone will deliver 11,319 packages and generate heaps of packaging waste”

I was astonished with such staggering statistics.

“You must have referred to some crazy and sadist antidevelopment NGO I guess. These numbers are not verified and could be fake or just a wild imagination. You must look at the Vikas (development) perspective too. Lot good happens to the world. We must be positive”

I continued to make my point.

“ I am sure in India under the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan more than 35 toilets are built every hour and our Honourable Union Transport Minister Mr Nitin Gadkari is constructing nearly 1.75 kms of road every hour. I can reel more of such numbers as the India’s national elections will come by”

“Oh Dr Modak, every minute is of concern to the sustainability of this planet. You don’t realize. Around 960 million tons of water is evaporated from the surface of the Earth every minute and 2,040 trees are cut down in the rainforest.

“Now it does sound scary Professor” I said this while opening a bottle of mineral water.

“You mentioned about Vikas and Vikas, but do you know that disparity is growing between the rich and the poor by every minute. Bill Gates will make $15,000 in a minute and in the meanwhile, a Nike factory worker in Vietnam will make only 1/10 of a penny.

Companies like Apple make more than 70,000 USD every minute and following closely behind Apple is Samsung, who makes close to $55,000 per minute.”

Professor was right.

I thought how much money Mukesh Ambani must be making in a minute as compared to a worker living in Mumbai’s slums. A friend of mine from Ministry of Health had told me that about 250 babies will be born around the world every minute,  and of those 250, 113 will be born into poverty and 15 will have birth defects.

My mobile phone beeped indicating that a new email had “arrived” in my mail-box. Today Internet has become a part (or shall I say a major part) of human lives. A lot happens in just one minute on the internet. Our virtual life is clearly dominating the real. I feel that instead of a punishment of life imprisonment, the best punishment could be LWI meaning sentencing a Life Without Internet. The LWI will be real torture to the convicted.

Sourced from

I thought more about what’s happening to me in a minute.

I realized that blood will circulate through my entire vascular system three times in one minute. Every 60 seconds, I will blink 15 to 20 times. And a hummingbird will flap its wings 4,000 times! There is so much happening then in just a minute!

What if we think about an hour? Wow, every hour will show much more staggering statistics. Studies in Australia have shown that every hour of TV watching shortens life by 22 minutes and every hour, sadly, one student commits suicide in India.

Professor tapped my hand when he saw me lost in the thoughts.

“Your coffee is getting cold Dr Modak. You have already wasted one full minute! Were you meditating?”

I thought I probably was.

No wonder he saw me “doing nothing”. But sometimes doing nothing may also bring good to this world. Do you think it will? I got confused.

I decided to approach Lord Vishnu for his practical advice on this dilemma and refer to his narration  in the Bhagwat Gita. I am sure there must be answers.

Cover image sourced from

If you like this Post then Follow me by clicking on the top right of this blog or forward to your colleagues.


20/20 by 2020 – India’s Saga on Industrial Pollution Control

Industrial pollution is not still under “control” in India like in many countries in the world. When I expressed my concern to my Professor Friend, he asked me to join a brainstorming meeting that was to be held in one the rooms of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

“Please do come Dr Modak, we are revisiting what has worked and what hasn’t and come up with India’s new Industrial Pollution Policy and Strategy”. He said solemnly

“But we already have Industrial Pollution Abatement Policy that was cast way back in 1992″  I protested. “May be you don’t need a new policy – first implement what was decided”

“Oh Dr Modak, how do you expect that a Policy formulated some 30 years ago will still be applicable? We must look at the changing situation” Professor frowned at me.

“But Professor, things haven’t changed much. The regulators (Pollution Control Boards) are still weak and handicapped in enforcement and the industries still continue to find “alternatives”. Honestly, in India’s pollution control “business” the major beneficiaries have been the “solution providers” i.e. equipment suppliers, monitoring instrument companies and testing laboratories and of course the consultants. I will also include in this list the NGOs, Research and Academia as they keep doing the same studies. I will add environmental lawyers as well because the National Green Tribunal (NGT). All these “stakeholders” are flourishing and making money – and quietly so. The pollution issue remains unchanged”

“You are so negative and pessimistic Dr Modak” Professor lit his cigar and continued “We have done so much progress now in terms of holding conferences and round-tables on topics that are hot and globally discussed such as – resource efficiency, circular economy. Gone are the days when we discussed treatment technology and waste disposal. These topics are now  rather mundane. We are also doing a lot when it comes to sustainability. Many industries are doing sustainability reporting, moving towards integrated reporting and now interested to follow TCFD (Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures).

Professor was right. We now no more discuss basic obligations such as compliance (or pollution control). That is just conventional and can be handled by meeting requirements of the Pollution Control Board somehow. All this work is pushed under the carpet – and to be handled by the poor Environmental, Health and Safety managers/engineers. The new breed of CSOs walk on the carpet with new concerns and interests such as Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility and now Corporate Environment Responsibility etc. Thats the jazz or the sweet music in the concert of industrial pollution management.

I thought I must point out to the Professor that his reflections were limited to the large corporates in India especially the multinationals. The Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in clusters was perhaps the major issue that needed to be addressed along with missions such as “Make in India”.

Professor listened to my point on SMEs. He reminded me of the strategy of co-financing Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) that the MoEFCC introduced way back  in 1992. “Weren’t you involved from the side of the World Bank in those days? These schemes targeted the SMEs”

Professor was right.

The early days of CETP scheme brought me memories of Walter Vergara of the World Bank who was then the Task Team Leader for India’s first line of credit “Industrial Pollution Control”.    Walter was an amazing salesman. I was always impressed with his speed, finesse and ease how he wrote the minutes of the meeting and back to office reports. I learnt a lot from him.

The IPC Project included loans to industries through IDBI and ICICI for building pollution control facilities (to achieve compliance), support to the scheme of CETPs and strengthen the regulatory functions at four PCBs that included modernization of the laboratories, providing training and introducing computerization. The project outlay was around 180 million USD and the Project operated between 1991-1997.

The IPC Project was cast following the most selling proposition or paradigm of carrot and stick. The Project strengthened PCBs for better enforcement. This was expected to lead to pollution control projects/investments at industries for meeting compliance. SMEs that could not install pollution control plants on individual basis were supported through “subsidized” CETPs.

(I had a reservation on the approach of capital-based subsidies for CETPs. To take advantage of the proportional capital subsidies, many CETP proponents “inflated” the project costs. My suggestion was to provide operational subsidy like the annuities we talk of today for road projects. Under “my scheme” a CETP company would receive operational subsidy every year based on CETP performance – and as audited by a third party. Of course, this suggestion was thrown in the “waste paper basket”).

At that time, IPC in Brazil was already a success and so also in Eastern Europe but the Indian IPC Project was unique because of the CETP component.

Walter was very bullish about the IPC project. The CETP component in IPC Project did well. It enjoyed a 50% grant from the State (25%) and Centre (25% that was padded by the World Bank) with 30% as loan (from IBDI – again supported by the World Bank) and only 20% of the investment was to be contributed as equity by the industries. The scheme required creation of a company (in todays parlance a Special Purpose Vehicle) by the industries operating in a cluster. In some sense this was an important institutional reform but unfortunately it didn’t receive the attention it deserved. Today, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and MPCB have directed CETP companies to ensure a comprehensive compliance and take overall responsibility not limited to CETP.

The PCBs monitored the performance of the CETPs. The CETP companies were made responsible collectively to ensure compliance. There were of course requirements to ensure that each industry did minimum pre-treatment so that the CETPs remained within the design pollution loads. The individual companies were however insulated or shielded behind the CETP. It was hard to identify who defaulted. The PCBs and CETP companies had to come up with innovative monitoring efforts and set up surprise inspection squads. Most of the CETPs in India today do not operate to meet the stipulated effluent standards.

Strengthening of the PCBs was a slow process. The procurement agent RITES couldn’t meet the Bank procurement requirements and there were significant delays in receiving the lab equipment. Project management at PCBs was poor that is the case even today. So, when the lab equipment arrived, the laboratory infrastructure was not ready, and the boxes of equipment remained unopened even over a year. Further, people who received training were not the right ones – and those were the right ones got transferred post training! Computers were bought with no application software ready and so, most staff used computers to play “digger” (a popular computer game those days!).

So, there was lot that one could learn from IPC Project. Because of the successful disbursement, IPC project was followed by Industrial Pollution Prevention (IPP) Project that had a similar outlay of 180 million USD.  IPP focused on pollution prevention and helped industries to modernize in this process.  by adopting cleaner technologies.  The IPP project was initially managed by Walter Vergara and later by Bekir Onursal with significant involvement of the Sector Manager Richard Ackerman.

I had a good fortune to work on both IPC and IPP. I would suggest my readers to access the Implementation Competition Reports (ICRs) of IPC  and IPP  as they will give you a great insight on India’s history on Industrial Pollution Control.

(Today pressures on industries for pollution control have changed and these must be recognized towards a well-orchestrated in the national industrial pollution abatement policy. For exporting industries, market regulations in the form of eco-labels and restrictions such as RoHS and WEE are asking for a change. The increasing role of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and pressures from the global supply chains is widening the canvas of industrial pollution management.

David Wheeler at the World Bank introduced the concept of G (Government)-B (Business)-C(Community) and wrote about it in his book “Greening of Industries”.  I expanded the G-B-C concept to G-B-FI-C introducing role of Financing Institutions (FI) in my recent book “Environmental Management Towards Sustainability” 

When I mentioned about these ideas to Professor, he wasn’t much impressed. “That’s all old stuff or something we already know” He said in his characteristic negative tone.

“You will learn much more when you come with me to this brainstorming meeting. I have invited CPCB and few PCBs, key industry associations, financing institutions, research and academic bodies, the NGOs and even retired administrators. I hope to come up with a new industrial pollution abatement policy that will bring in the desired change and well before  the national elections”

“But Dr Modak, in todays political climate we must start with a good slogan” Professor said.

“I have thought of one e.g. 20/20 (means 20% pollution reduction and 20% energy conservation by 2020. The slogan reads and sounds well and addresses resource efficiency as well as GHG emission reduction and has metrics that could be used as target! I intend to spend first half of the meeting on this subject i.e. the slogan”

I was astonished to see that Professor was really serious and was willing to spend so much time on deciding the slogan than on the actual policy!

I decided to opt out of this brainstorming meeting

I worked on several projects on industrial pollution control in different countries. These projects followed the structure of IPC/IPP in India. One of them was Samut Prakarn Wastewater Management project financed by ADB and JBIC in Thailand. The Project did use the slogan 20/20 for the demo investment projects at  industries and included financing of a large CETP. Another series of investment projects that I worked on was Egyptian Pollution Abatement Project (EPAP). EPAP  is currently in its 3rd phase with finance from European Investment Bank. The effectiveness as well as sustainability of all such projects has been low.

Cover image sourced from

If you like this post then click on Follow me on the top right of the blog or forward to your colleagues


A Sad Story of a Droplet

A droplet got formed on one of the dark clouds some 10000 ft high in the sky. The droplet wished to visit earth and be useful to the humans and ecosystems that were thirsty for water.

It approached Lord Varuna who rules the world of oceans to seek his blessings and advice.

“Oh, descend following the winds and glide into one of the water reservoirs next to the great city of Mumbai in India. You will experience an interesting journey” smiled Lord Varuna.

The droplet followed the advice and landed into one the large reservoirs next to Mumbai.

At first, it shuddered for a while, to get rid of the dirt it had picked up while descending.

“Too much pollution by the particulates here” the droplet said.

We know that the city skies are clad with a blanket of haze most of the times, especially in winter. Particle accumulation in the air column is nothing uncommon or extraordinary.  Satellite based data and information on direct solar radiation can give a good assessment of the status of the “lid” of particles over a city. Ångström turbidity coefficient ( β) and Linke turbidity factor ( TL) are some of the parameters used for such an assessment. Particulate lids over Indian cities have not been studied.

It would be great such assessments are carried out in addition to collecting data from ground-based particulate monitoring stations. These assessments when done over time (detecting the change) can be very revealing.

Mumbai in a Haze

But let us not talk about particulate pollution here and continue with our story.

The droplet swum around and met several other droplets to know more about the life in the reservoir. Few droplets said that there was a lot of silt at the bottom, with very low oxygen to breath warning not to sink down. Some droplets couldn’t stand the warm temperature on the surface and eventually evaporated.  So, the droplet decided to stay in the middle like most of us do in our lives for survival.

Jumping out of the reservoir over the spillway was a great fun and in the process the droplet got oxygenated. Didn’t know that this oxygen was going to be a savior later.

Few kilometers downstream, the droplet met with some strangers. These strange droplets contained species such as ammonia. In the process of hustle bustle and mingling (like we see happening in Mumbai local trains), some of the ammonia molecules got inside the droplet. The droplet wasn’t comfortable with this uninvited guest. Conversations with other equally affected droplets explained the source as discharge of untreated sewage and even industrial effluents.

Why don’t these humans take care of the sewage and industrial effluents to avoid contamination of rivers by ammonia? The droplet said.

It seems levels of ammonia in Indian rivers have been on the rise. Locations such as Wazirpur in Yamuna have been flashed in the media for high ammonia concentrations. But ammonia is not the only issue – Another droplet who had more experience said so.

As the droplet moved further downstream, it saw floating plastic bags, oil patches, foam and fecal matter, hugging the banks. And it was appalling to see people taking religious dips in such waters.

“What is happening to the so-called river cleaning projects?” The droplet was almost screaming. “Oh, keep shut or speak in a deep voice” a senior droplet said, “Our PM should not come to know that you are speaking the truth. Elections in India are not far away”.

The droplet sailed further downstream now staying in the mid-section of the river to avoid pollution from the banks. The same strategy of the middle-path was followed.

A water works was seen few kilometers further. The droplet decided to get into the intake well – as journey along the river was certainly risky.

“Good decision” said a neighboring droplet “you will get cleansed here and get an opportunity to meet the humans and their engineered infrastructure”

The droplet got into the waterworks with the baggage of ammonia molecule.

Here, there were many chambers the droplet had to navigate. In one chamber, the droplet was made to float to let the heavy particulate matter settle with help of molecules of alum. Then there was a filter bed that the droplet had to penetrate to get rid of the finer particles. However, the ammonia molecule stayed and did not leave the droplet in these particulate removal processes.

Finally, at the end there was a chamber that looked like the one in concentration camps of the second world war. It had the process of chlorination and the droplet was suffocated with chlorine molecules. Here the ammonia molecule got transformed into a new species – chloramine. The droplet thought this may improve the situation. But a fellow droplet educated saying that the situation was contrary.

When water with high levels of ammonia is treated in a plant which uses chlorination to treat water, there is a chemical reaction which forms chloramine. Chloramine has various short and long term health impacts, which is why water polluted with ammonia should not be subjected to chlorination. According to, people with liver or kidney disease and those with hereditary urea cycle disorders are at increased risk from the consumption of chlorinated water. In India we have not done research enough on the impact of such “derivatives”.

But let us continue with our story.

The droplet left the water works and entered the public water distribution system, now carrying with it the unwanted and not desirable chloromine.

The journey in the water distribution pipes wasn’t very pleasant either as similar to the river banks, the droplet experienced other contaminants entering the water pipe, now of the microorganisms category. The source in some occasions was sewage as the sewer pipes were laid close to the water pipes and there were leakages and cross overs.

The droplet was pumped into a water tank at the basement of a housing complex. The tank wasn’t well cleaned and had a lot of slime. The droplet was by then accustomed to the scene of contamination and was feeling no shame. Indeed, there was a huge difference between the current state and the “purity” that the droplet had when left the dark cloud that was 10,000 ft high.

When the droplet arrived at a 10th floor house of the housing complex, it was pushed to a water purifier that mimicked the water works, the droplet had earlier gone through. Here the processes were filtration, a bed of activated carbon and a radiation by UV light. That was more torture but the droplet felt cleaner and better. Some chloromine was removed and microorganisms who were jumping around were put to rest.

There was a fundamental question however.

Why don’t the humans take care of the pollution in the river systems and protect the pipes carrying treated water in the first place so that there is no need to “re-treat” the water when it reaches home? Mumbai’s 20 million population will surely have 2 million house water filters that are installed because water delivered is not safe. So much material and energy consumption and a challenge to dispose the used filter material, spent activated carbon etc.! The droplet wondered.

But we continue with our story.

The droplet was now in a jug on the table where a dinner was about to commence. The head of the house poured water from the jug into a glass to drink. The droplet was right there.

The head of the house however noticed that the glass wasn’t clean. There seemed to be some dirt floating on the top.

“Oh, must change the glass” he said and walked across to empty the glass in the washbasin.

The droplet was disappointed – after all the trouble taken to reach the house, it was sent to the drain!  the fate of this droplet was just like the lives of many of us – “unutilized” , “underutilized” or “unnoticed”

The droplet continued the journey  through the maze of sewer network, facing contamination once again, passing through a sewage treatment works for partial purification and then landing  into the oceans that were equally dirty and full of micro-plastics. This was really the dark side of the  water cycle.

Having understood the “ultimate truth”, the droplet decided to meditate on the surface of the ocean. It resigned to the fate of being evaporated. It was like going to the heavenly abode as most of us opt to do when we are frustrated in our lives.

The clouds at 10,000 ft high were waiting for the droplet to return.

Lord Varuna smiled.


If you like this post then click on Follow me on the top right or forward the post to your colleagues






Communicating Creatively


Yesterday, in my office we had a session on how to make effective presentations or an engagement. Although we did discuss the “PowerPoint”, the idea was to go beyond – i.e. how do we plan our communique in view of the target audience while meeting the objectives.

Generally, in most of our engagements, we use PowerPoint slides. But showing slides should not be the only tool and in some situations, we may not use slides at all!

We may like to speak more than (or “other than”) what is on the slides, tell stories and ask questions to make the engagement more interactive. We may play an interesting video to discuss and, in some occasions, play a game or use an activity.

But despite all careful planning, you must be ready to deal with surprises as well. Here is my story.

I was asked to speak to staff of a large textile processing house in the outskirts of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The topic was Cleaner Production. I was told that the top management and heads of different departments will be attending. I prepared a set of 20 PowerPoint slides with case studies on textile industries who benefited from Cleaner Production. My case studies included stories from Bangladesh.

When I reached the process house, I was taken to a conference room with a projector. There were 20 middle to senior level management people. As I started speaking and put up my first slide, the power went off.

The room became pitch dark. There was no ventilation. A few minutes passed by. I thought the situation wont last long and the back up power will take over.

Unfortunately, there was some major snag. Phone calls happened on the mobile. Windows to the room were opened. The Managing Director (MD) said “Sorry Dr Modak, the power supply will be interrupted for at least 2 hours and we have been advised not to use the backup power for reasons unknown”

We stepped out of the room.

“Dr Modak, would you mind addressing us on the shop floor of the dyeing and printing department? We can put some chairs there. The big advantage is that the audience will also have the shop floor workers and I am sure your message on Cleaner Production will interest them and benefit all of us” The MD said.

I realized that this was rather a tough proposition, but it was made in all earnestness. I was feeling rather “powerless” however and I was not comfortable in the absence of my well-made PowerPoint slides.

But there wasn’t much time to think.

I was taken to the shop floor of the Dyeing and Printing department. There were 20 seniors sitting on the chairs and another 50 workers standing behind. There was a blackboard with few white chalks placed at the Centre.

The MD introduced me to this audience (that I was not prepared to address!) and said “Dr Modak, it will be nice if you delivered your talk in Hindi (preferably in Bollywood Hindi) so that my workers will understand what you will speak”

Wow, I realized that this presentation was going to be even more challenging. I did not know what to say! I wished I was Amitabh Bachhan.

I realized that I had to stay simple and direct – and not use any jargon. But that is easier said than done.

I saw on an industrial balance on the table top with weights stacked next. I walked towards the balance. Everybody was watching.

I asked the name of the worker standing close to the balance in Hindi. He said “I am Mohamed”

I said “Mohamed, do you use this balance to prepare the recipe for every batch on your jet dyeing machines?”

Mohamed nodded

Alright then, I said looking at everybody

“Let us check out how good is this balance”

I asked Mohmed to place a 5 kg weight on the right pan of the balance. I told another worker to put 3 of 1 kg weights and one 2kg weight in the left pan telling all that we should see both the pans in “balance”

Everybody was watching – few curious and few tensed – even the MD

La Ho!. The pans were simply out of balance! This was shocking. The left pan required another half kg weight to strike the balance.

I was half expecting this result

I asked everybody “How many times do you use this balance in the 3 shifts? And each time you use, your recipe is not going to right. What does this mean to the production you do?”

This was like opening the Pandora’s box. Many started speaking.

A supervisor said, “no wonder, we have to re-dye the fabric or sometimes strip or bleach as the depth of shade does not match with the requirements”.

Few workers said that they adjust the pressure and run times of the jet dyeing machines  in many occasions. It’s a bit of trial and error exercise they said.

The procurement head said that he always found the salt consumption on a higher side compared to the calculations based on recipe

I said “sure, all this must be leading to higher costs of dyeing, reducing your productivity as well as profits”

The conversations got even further animated as we started talking about costs, profits and productivity. Everybody “exploded” in Bangla and MD had to butt in and translate for me.

The can of Cleaner Production thus opened. I started with the importance of housekeeping, maintenance and rationalization – walked around the shop floor asking everyone to make suggestions to improve and write them on the blackboard with a white chalk.

We spent a good one hour and generated lots of observations/gaps and action points.

The next thing I did was to translate the benefits in environmental terms like chemicals saved, water consumption reduced, reduced wastewater load, energy recovered etc.

The senior management present on the shop floor added the necessary technical flavor by quoting numbers.

When MD accompanied me to the hotel, he apologized profusely about the inconvenience caused by the sudden power interruption. “But I want to tell you that “all” were happy with your session and understood the concept of Cleaner Production” He said.

I thought I should be the one to thank him as I realized that this extraordinary situation helped me to innovate and build my communication skills – right on the spot.

And the experience was unforgettable

Cover image sourced from

If you like this Post then Follow me by clicking button on top right or forward across to your colleagues.

Do share your own stories of communication on this blog







Oasis Siwa in the Sahara

This post may sound real but it is real only in parts.

I crafted the story based on my encounters in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam where I had an opportunity to work with some amazing office secretaries.

To tell you this story, I chose Egypt as the setting but some of the incidents come from Indonesia and Vietnam.

Names and characters in the story are masked and any resemblance if at all – is only incidental and not intentional.

Hope you will enjoy the story.  Life can be full of surprises.

I met Dina in Cairo. She was Office Secretary on a project I was working.

Dina was a copt. Copts are the largest Christian community in Egypt.

Dina was middle aged – must be in late thirties. She had a tanned skin and a great dress sense. She spoke good English compared to others. She had a sweet French accent as her mother held from Morocco. Dina was outspoken, bold and a dashing personality.

In her early twenties she fell in love with Captain Hashim of Egypt Air and married him despite opposition from the family.

Capt. Hashim was smart and handsome. As many feared, he turned out to be quite a flirt. Dina caught him red-handed with an air hostess and it raised a sand storm in their lives. Dina abandoned Hashim and left his house. Since then she raised her only daughter Shani on her own. Past ten years have been a tough living for Dina as she hardly made much money.

Dina made my life in Cairo comfortable

She knew the kind of sandwich I liked during lunch. So, she spoke to the Marriot bakery downstairs and made sure that I got my sandwich that had less cheese and more of greens. In those days, I had to get my passport stamped from the local police station on arrival in Maadi. Dina used to get this done with her influence avoiding my visit to the police station. I was always booked at the room facing Nile at the Sofitel at a discounted price. Driver taking me to the airport was given instructions where to stop on the way to pick up the Egyptian bread, Tahina and Humus – something my friends in Mumbai always looked for.

I once asked Dina about her advice on taking a break in Egypt and travel around.

“Well Dr Modak, you may like to see the “usual” places and even take the celebrated Nile Cruise but if I were you then I will go to the Siwa oasis” She said.

The historic town of Siwa stands on an isolated oasis situated in the Western Desert region of Egypt, approximately 550 km west of the capital Cairo, and some 50 km from the border with Libya. Extending some 80 km in length and 20 km in width, the Siwa oasis is one of the most isolated settlements in the country.

Dina told me that reaching Siwa is a long ten-hour drive, but it is still worth as it presents spiritual tradition of people, amazing land, healing salt lakes and rejuvenating natural springs, set against the centering serenity of the Sahara.

Siwa oasis is one of North Africa‘s best kept secrets.

Have you been there Dina? I asked.

“Not yet Dr Modak. I really want to. One day I will” She sighed. Perhaps her life in the scorching sun was looking for an Oasis like Siwa as a solace.

In one of my travels to Cairo, I was in Abu Dhabi airport on transit. My mobile rang, and it was Dina from Cairo

“Dr Modak, can you please do me a favour” She was breathing heavy.

My daughter Shani is desperate to have new Nokia mobile phone (Gold edition). I knew about Shani (means wonderful woman in Arabic) and how dear she was to Dina.

“I will pay you once you are in Cairo” She said and hung up the phone.

I found the gold edition in the duty free and shopped the mobile phone for Shani.

When I reached Sofitel, Dina was waiting for me in the lobby.

I handed over the box containing the Nokia. “Thank you so much Dr Modak, tomorrow is Shani’s birthday and I want to give her a real surprise” She was very emotional. She hugged me.

When I met Dina next day morning I found her a bit tensed.  She asked me to come out to the elevator lobby. She told me that she is short of money– but will settle somehow before I leave for Mumbai. She was very apologetic.

I said no worries as I was to spend 2 weeks in Egypt for my project.

In the next week, I was sitting in the office of my Project manager Tim. We used to sit late sometimes and go together for a glass of wine in the Sofitel or for some Thai food nearby. As we got out of the office, Tim said “Prasad, something strange has happened. Dina told me that 1000 Egyptian pounds got missing from her drawer today. The drawer was locked but she had inadvertently left the keys on the table top. She had drawn the cash for settling some sundry expenses.

This theft probably happened when she came to my office for a dictation. I really don’t know how to handle this situation.  I have asked Dina not to draw large cash anymore and keep the cash box from now on in my office drawer. This is the first time a theft of this sort has happened in our office.

I could see that Tim was really upset.

Dina was crying. She took leave for two days to get over. She even offered to pay Tim as she said she was responsible. We never found the thief. Dina paid me for the mobile on my last day to return.

On one of the Fridays, Dorothy, my Australian colleague, invited me to her apartment in Zamalek. The apartment had a balcony that faced river Nile. “I am calling Dina too” she said “She can be a good company”. I couldn’t disagree.

Dina came to the apartment with a crate of beer and sheekh touk (chicken tikka). We drank the beer sitting in the balcony and played some cool music. All of us were pretty “high” and Dina was certainly sozzled and started speaking out her mind. She vented out her anger on Hashim (her ex-husband), his betrayal and the broken marriage. She spoke about how different he was when they first met at a coffee shop at Cairo international airport.

“I will never see or speak to this scoundrel” she almost screamed.

“Time to go home Dina” Dorothy said realizing her anguish with rising intake of alcohol.

I offered help Dina reach her down in the basement where she had parked her car.

“Oh, I don’t need anybody – I am just alright” Dina was loud this time when she said this and walked out of the apartment to the elevator.

In the next 10 minutes, we heard a big thud in the basement. Dina had rammed her the car on the wall as the car was parked on the reverse gear. I had to call Shani to come and fetch her. “Oh Mumma, not again!” Shani said. Then she turned to me “Do you know when Mumma drinks she misses Dad and goes just crazy”

In one of my last missions to Cairo, I developed stiffness in my lower Jaw. First, I thought it had something to do with a tooth infection but when I approached the doctor, he suspected a potential cardiac issue and recommended that I return to Mumbai earlier.

Dina checked for the flights and found that the flights were absolutely full.

I told her not to bother and that I will take the flight I had a confirmed reservation.

But Dina refused

“Dr Modak, I don’t want you to take any risk, you must return soonest possible” She was very firm

“I will manage somehow – leave to me” she said in her characteristic confidence.

I don’t know what magic she did or the influence she used, but she secured me a seat to Mumbai the very next day. She picked me from Sofitel and drove to the airport. She insisted that she must come as her presence was needed at the check-in counter.

We reached Cairo International airport. At the check-in, I saw a tall handsome Egyptian and his uniform carried a batch that said Captain Hashim

Dina spoke in Arabic. It was a very brief conversation, but I could sense that Dina was asking a favor.

I got a seat

I thanked Captain Hashim profusely for his help. While praising Dina, I said “She is truly a treasure that one should never lose”

Captain Hashim smiled – was he repenting? – I thought

Dina walked with me to the immigration gate. She hugged me to say good bye. “Take good care Dr Modak” She said.

Capt. Hashim stayed at the check in counter as if waiting for Dina to return. I noticed a coffee shop few meters away.

I wonder what will happen now as I leave – I said to myself.

In next few months, Dina lost her job as the project got closed. I didn’t receive any emails from her thereafter.

But just after Christmas, last year, I received a new year card from Cairo.

It was a family photo from Siwa oasis. In the photo I saw Capt. Hashim standing with his arms around Dina with Shani was standing next to them with a lovely smile

It was so nice to see the reunion at the Siwa Oasis.

And I was happy that I was a part.

If you like this Post then please Follow me by clicking on the button at top right. You may forward the Post to your colleagues in your network.

Its Right to Repair

When we think of circularity of material flows, we need to understand “outer” and “inner circle” approaches.

The “outer circle” approach creats a closed loop of materials through recycling. In the case of electronic goods, this means recovering of precious metals lodged in our gadgets, something only feasible with a sophisticated technology, requiring a scale and where large companies profit.

The “inner circle” approach is essentially following route of repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing. It is the inner circle approach where we transform our living from the single-use and throw away culture. When we follow inner circle approach, it helps us to save money, conserve our resources, generate employment and come up with innovations. We extend product’s life cycle through reuse. The inner circle is people centric, it is for citizens and supports small companies.

Unfortunately, the inner circle approach to material circulation does not find much space in both public and scientific discussions. We speak more about recycling or the outer circle approach to achieve circularity. We need both – but former should get a preference.

Repair is restoration of a broken, damaged, or failed device, equipment, part, or property to an acceptable operating or usable condition. Repair can involve replacement. Refurbishing is refinishing and sanitization (beyond repair) to serve the original function with better aesthetics. Repaired and refurbished products, although in good condition, may not be comparable with new or remanufactured products. In remanufacturing, the product is resold with performance and specifications comparable to new products.

How do we know if the repaired, refurbished or remanufactured product is good? Can we certify? The “Remade In Italy” label certifies the use of recycled material / reuse in products. The release of the Remade In Italy ® certification is subject to a verification process by a third-party body (and therefore independent) for the certification of both management and product systems. The Remade in Italy ® label highlights the environmental values ​​of the material / product and is characterized by the assignment of a class, based on the percentage of recycled / reused material present.

I may be wrong, but we don’t have such a certification scheme in India and perhaps in several countries in the world.

Remanufactured or refurbished products can help companies compete at a lower price with cheaper or lower quality competitors, without reducing quality, due to the resource savings realised, allowing firms to secure greater market share. Economic incentives and disincentives as well as enforcement of legislation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) play an important role to move the inner circle.

Recent interest on repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing has led to establishment of reverse logistic chains, i.e. collection and transport systems. Several off the shelf or plugin type technology platforms have evolved such as 12return that help create reverse supply chains from consumers to service providers, operated by “aggregators”.

The repair culture did not have much root in the developed economies due to high costs of labour. Realizing the importance of its promotion however, countries in the European Union (EU) have come up with incentives. In Sweden, a tax-refund scheme operates that on the labour segment of household repair bills for white goods and electronics. On similar lines, in Austria, there is a proposal to make repair cheaper by reimbursement of 50% of the labour costs of repair. In France, there are differentiated EPR scheme fees depending on how easily you can dismantle a product for repair, on the availability of spare parts or on whether the information/instructions on how to repair a product are available. These fees are lowered for producers who inform consumers how long spare parts will be available for the product on purchase.

In the United States (US), eighteen States have proposed “Right to Repair” legislation. The Right to Repair bill will make easier for people to repair their broken electronic equipment—like cell phones, computers, appliances, cameras, and even tractors. The legislation would require manufacturers to release repair information to the public and sell spare parts to owners and independent repair shops. It is going to be however a bumpy ride as giants like Apple and Microsoft are gearing up to oppose this legislation in at least one State.

But how do we scale up and build capacities? Restart Project – a London-based social enterprise – encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer in order to save money and reduce waste. Restart helps people learn to repair their own electronics in community events (parties) and in workplaces and speak publicly about repair and product resilience. Today, Restart is working with 54 people in 10 countries who are planning on replicating and adapting the Restart model.

Conceived as a way to help people reduce waste, social entrepreneur Martine Postma organized the first Repair Café in October 2009 in Amsterdam. Its success prompted her to start the Repair Café Foundation in 2011. Since then, this non-profit organization has helped local groups start their own Repair Cafés. Today, there are more than 1,400 such cafés in 33 countries, from the US to Japan. According to the foundation’s 2016 annual report, repairing prevented about 250,000kg of waste from heading to landfills.

Repair Cafe

Antara Mukherji, co-founded Repair Café Bengaluru in November 2015 with Purna Sarkar. Since its inception, Repair Café Bengaluru has organized 19 workshops where adults pay a programme fee and learn how to repair household things ranging from an iron to an induction top. The organization says it has repaired more than 700 products and saved about 1,300kg of waste from ending up in landfills.

But in India, across the country, there are repair shops that can fix anything and everything. In Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti area, Javed Husain Khan repairs and sells old Swiss watches, from Favre-Leuba to Rolex; Nehru Place in Delhi thrives on the economics of repair; brothers Muhammad Moinuddin and Muhammad Mujeebuddin claim their 80-year-old shop in Chatta Bazaar Road in Hyderabad’s Old City is the ultimate repair destination for vintage radios, record players and cassette decks—the list goes on. Chor Bazars or Thieves market are hubs of innovation when it comes to repair, refurbish and remanufacturing.

The skill of repairing, refurbishing and remanufacturing is dying slowly. Repairing is often considered as a vocation for the uneducated/underprivileged or a mere hobby.  In large cities, you would not see repairwalas going from street to street, offering to fix broken items. We now have web-based repair services – but these companies need to quantify, record and communicate the environmental and social benefits, Enterprises in the developed countries know very well how to do so and hence get cited in the international news, conferences and the like! We need a research group in India to take on such a project.

I spoke to my Professor friend about the importance of inner circle approach especially the repair, refurbish and remanufacturing. “There is too much emphasis or hype on recycling alone and most think that circular economy means recycling” I said.

Professor was busy repairing his bicycle. He looked up to me and said “You are right Dr Modak, repair for reuse is the right thing to do. And we need product designs that are repair friendly. We should frame  incentives and disincentives. We also need recycled product standards, smart reverse logistics and schemes on skill building. The inner circle will then operate on a scale it deserves and will resonate well with the outer circle approaches”

I couldn’t disagree.

Professor continued while handling a spanner and fixing a bolt “But to me Dr Modak, our engineering curriculums must include a course on repair, refurbish and remanufacturing with a workshop. It will help the students to look for alternatives, think out of the box and innovate”. We should leverage on India’s Make in India, Zero defect and Skill India programs.

He then smiled and said “Don’t you know that repairing with your own hands reduces the risk of Alzheimer? –I spend half of my Sunday every week repairing something or other. It sharpens my brain and improves my reflexes”

I thought that Professor was absolutely “Right”. That was yet another benefit in the asking for “Right to Repair”!

Cover image sourced from

Useful reading

Promoting Remanufacturing, Refurbishment, Repair, and Direct Reuse

Indian examples with text sourced from

Year-End Special: Repair economy 2.0 by Gayatri Jayaraman and Year-End Special: The ministry of broken things

I will highly recommend that you see these references

If you like this Post then Follow Me by clicking button at the top right of the blog or forward to your colleagues