How to get Speedy Environmental Clearance?


Making a presentation at the Environmental Clearance (EC) Committee is often an ordeal. A lot depends on the moods and whims of the Committee Members. The fate of the project i.e. Go or No Go depends on the presentation made by the Consultant hired by the Project Proponent.

A considerable time is spent on the preparation of the presentation. Often rehearsals are made and advice is sought from the past Committee members. The consultant brings along a dozen team members representing various domains of expertise ranging from air pollution to economics, biodiversity, gender and social inclusion. An expert is also brought along, who represents ‘nobody or nothing’ i.e. understands or knows only the project politics. This expert watches and does not generally speak and follows up after the meeting. Despite such heavy preparations, many of the outcomes of the meeting are unpredictable. Getting an EC is just a probability.

I was told that some Project Proponents go to temples, pray and make promises to the  Gods with a hope that the Mortal Gods of the EC Committees are kind enough to accord the EC. A temple next to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has a special counter called Tatkal EC. Those interested, pay a donation of Rs
100,000 to help get the EC on priority. If you pay Rs 500,000 then prayers are made in a more elevated manner, requesting the Gods that EC be issued with least conditions. Cheques/drafts and credit cards are accepted and official receipts are issued. It is a transparent process.

Behind the building where EC Committee meets, there is a small lane where good-luck charms are sold. Legend has it that a project proponent wore a stone of Guru (Jupiter)
and the most vocal member of the Committee suddenly developed a sore throat and could not ask a single question! Getting the EC was then a cake walk.

There are also Swamis who bless the project proponent for the success of EC. They conduct a ritual that includes chanting of mantras for “SRK” (Not Shah Rukh Khan but the planets Shani- Rahu & Ketu). You need however a prior appointment. These Swamis charge a success fee of 0.001% of the project cost and the money is to be paid in cash. Advance payment is required and a refund is provided in case EC is not granted.

There are mixed opinions on which strategy is more effective, i.e. temple offerings, wearing of stones or following the Swamis. A PhD student at IIT is doing a research project focussed on this by conducting interviews and applying some psycho-spiritual models that are based on game theory.

I thought of discussing this interesting facet of EC in India with  Professor friend. As usual he was busy. “All these strategies to obtain EC are rubbish. You need a scientific approach and proper training. Come to the Little Theatre at Lodhi Road at 6 pm in the evening to witness how I address this challenge”. I had always liked to eat the mini samosas sold in the foyer of the Little Theatre, so I carried six samosas for me and the Professor in a paper bag and entered the Theatre.

Professor was right on the stage wearing the gown of the ‘Play Director’. He was in action  and didn’t notice me coming in. On the stage, there was a long table with 6 people sitting  with grim faces, representing the Environmental Clearance Committee. In the front (like a darbar) there were 11 people (poor souls) who represented the Project Proponent. There  was an LCD projector in the middle. Some slides were being projected by the Project consultant. This guy had a trembling voice, and his posture was very apologetic. The project was about the construction of a township for 40000 people on a hill.

One of the committee members who was wearing thick spectacles spoke. “All this is fine, but have you carried out climate proofing of the township? I was hoping to see the application of SimChimp software to estimate floods that may happen in 2040. It is important to know whether your stormwater system has factored-in such extreme events that may happen in the future. You should see my recent publication in Current Science stressing the importance of climate proofing in EIA”.

Before, the project consultant could answer, a member from the College of Architecture intervened, “The entire project proposal has missed the point on sustainability. Your township must be zero energy, zero waste and zero water. You have to come up with a plan that ensures the township does not draw a drop of water from outside, recovers all the  waste and requires no additional source of energy. The project should become a model to others. I would like my students to get involved in this project to reshape/redesign”.

Then a man wearing a sling bag and a Gandhi topi spoke in a deep voice “Have you considered what will happen to the tribals on the hill? I don’t believe the number of people
you have quoted as displaced is true. You are simply providing wrong data. All the project-affected people need to be compensated for and provided employment. There should also be benefit-sharing out of your profits. This was the latest recommendation from the World Bank during the meeting in Washington DC that I attended. My NGO will be very interested to work as a monitoring and evaluation agency.”

The members spoke one after another and the project consultant was doing his best to defend the project – sometimes requesting members of his expert team to chip in. Heated discussion ensued, with the committee members becoming abrasive. One member suggested that given the sensitivity of the project location, the project proponent should carry out a one-year baseline study with remotely sensed imageries at 0.5 meter  resolution. Another member wanted an amphibian survey – “we would like to have this  data for research purpose,” he said. “This may not be relevant but there are no publications on this topic and it will be good to know.”

At this point the project proponent lost his temper.

“Cut! Cut!” My Professor friend stopped the conversation. “You cannot lose your temper Sir! Have patience and be philosophical”

“Cut! Cut!” My Professor friend stopped the conversation. “You cannot lose your temper  Sir! Have patience and be philosophical” The mock drill was over. The stage was now ‘converted’ into a classroom. The EC committee members, who were the ‘actors’ before, took ‘ordinary seats’. The professor trained the project proponent and his consultant on  how to make PowerPoint slides, explaining minute details such as slide template, font color and size and then how to speak, where to pause and how to speak blatant lies with an innocent face, where to bow down even if the question asked was stupid or irrelevant,  where to praise the review committee member and where to make tall promises etc. This session was also theatrical as the Professor enacted a few sessions himself. This made the training very real and effective.

As we came out of the Little Theatre, the Professor said, “Such training helps. The success rate is really high and almost all the project proponents who have gone through my  training have received speedy Environmental Clearances. All are happy”.

“You must publicize this training programme Professor – it’s an important national  service that you are offering,” I said as I finished the leftover samosa. “Oh, I will never do that,” said the professor. “I don’t want this to become a business or a profession. I am  sure the NABET of Quality Control Association of India will then come up with another category of accreditation called ‘EIA Theatre Directors’. Theatre personalities like  Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Alyque Padamsee, with very little environmental training, will then take over and conventional EIA consultants will have little role to play in getting the Environmental Clearance.”

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Lunch between Obama and Modi – A Deep Secret for India’s Smart Sustainable Growth


One of the prominent newspapers covering the recent visit of President Obama to Mr Modi featured the lunch hosted by Government of India at the Hyderabad House. The lunch menu included Shatwar ka Shorba, Shrimp Karavalli, Neza Kabab, Mahi Sarson, Bhuna Gosht Boti, Mixed Vegetable Kalonoji, Gujarati Kadhi, Matar Pulao, Gajar ka Halva, Gulab Jamun, Fresh Fruits ending with South Indian Coffee/Herbal Tea.

Some said that this Menu was a reflection of Modi’s geo-political preferences and deserves a deeper analysis. I was also told that the menu was fast becoming a model for all high level weddings in Gujarat. All top chefs in Gujarat were practicing hard to do a fine job with these menu items. Books were written and videos were produced especially for housewives who wanted to please their husband’s bosses with the Obama-Modi or the OM Lunch Menu. I called on my Professor friend to discuss the menu in these perspectives.


The Professor pooh poohed my observations. He said that a lot gone behind the lunch and very few know about it. He then asked me to come to our usual coffee shop for a long session. “Come with a pack of cigars for me” he said. “I will give you some amazing dope – all top secrets”

When we took our seats, he lighted his cigar, took a deep puff and said- “Prasad, I was the Chief Consultant appointed to plan this lunch by none else than Mr Modi himself. As soon as Obama’s visit got fixed, I was called by the PMO to work on the Lunch Project as an important National Mission. My institute relieved me from all teaching responsibilities. The PMO gave me unlimited budget to hire staff, take on travel or conduct/ sponsor any studies or research as needed. I had to meet Mr Modi every week in his personal gym while he used to be on the tread mill and therefore would only listen and not speak”

I could not comprehend how could a Lunch Project be equivalent to a National Mission. Looking at my jinxed face, the Professor continued

“Please understand the gravity of the Lunch. Take the venue itself. Obama is used to eat only in the Green Rated Buildings. Six months ago when the lunch was fixed the Hyderabad houes, it was not a Green Rated building. So I commissioned an agency of national repute to assess the building and come up with an action plan for Green Retrofitting. This plan got actually implemented and today we are saving at least 1.5 million Rs of electricity bill every month. This experience led to a national program for building retrofitting following an aggressive business model. Do you know that four metros of the country are implementing this program, saving around 10,000 MW of power and 50,000 tons of GHG emissions on annual basis? The Green Building programs earlier focused only on green-field or new constructions – successful greening of Hyderabad house triggered retrofitting of the existing buildings – that was most needed.


I was impressed.

“Now take the Lunch Menu itself. For this lunch, all the vegetables sourced for cooking were brought from local organic farms. Obama eats only organic food and gets a skin rash and an upset stomach if non-organic food is eaten. So I went to the organic farms personally to check. I realized that many of these farms did not have formal certification. So I developed a national program. This program included development of criteria, establishment of laboratories for testing, raise consumer awareness and impart education, provide financial incentives for promotion of organic food etc. Next week, after the Obama lunch, Mr Modi will be announcing National Program for Organic Farm Certification that will be operated by the Agricultural Ministry.  In the next 10 years, Indians will get only organic food!

I was about to ask that getting just food first was more important than organic, but the Professor was in no mood to listen.

“Design of the menu itself was a complex mathematical exercise. We were told that the total calorie intake for Obama was to be 1500 and the bread units were to be between 7 to 8. (I later found out that bread unit parameter was relevant as Obama has a mild diabetes). So I set up a 0-1 Mixed Integer Programming optimization problem with Multiple Objectives. My problem statement considered 107 possible dishes or food items and picked only those 11 that added to 1500 calories and 7.5 bread units! With this application experience, I got a mobile phone application developed. Given the rising number of incidence of diabetes in cities in India and the growing serenade lifestyles, this application will help the citizens immensely. By next 2 years you will see that all Lunch and Dinner menus in India will be based on my optimization algorithm. There will be a fall in the diabetes incidences in urban India”.

I was overwhelmed by Professors national vision. Taking an ordinary lunch (that’s what I thought) to the mode of national missions was something too far fetched …

The Professor was extinguishing his cigar – “and many more such things Prasad he said. The napkins used on the Lunch table were as per the GOTS standard. If a conventionally bleached and finished napkin is used then formaldehyde sitting on the fabric gets leached as you sweat. Obama is very allergic to such fabrics and sweats profusely even in a room with 220C. So I flew to the GOTS headquarters in the Netherlands and got the napkins GOTS certified. I then developed with the Ministry of Textiles a National Eco-labelling Program. This program is expected to help the textile industry (and especially those coming from Gujarat) to meet the international eco-labelling requirements. This will lead to increase in exports to the EU and Americas by a whopping 30% over the next 2 years.  As a side benefit, health and safety of the consumers will also improve”.

I could now clearly see how one lunch with Obama was triggering smart sustainable growth in India. Sadly, few knew that my Professor friend was behind this transformation,

I had a number of questions though and wanted to learn more about other ramifications. So I called Professors office. “Oh he is not available. And not for the next six months” his secretary said in a tired voice (must be telling this to the numerous callers asking for her boss). When asked about his whereabouts and reasons for a sudden disappearance – she said “Actually, he has strict instructions not to tell anyone – but only to you Dr Modak. Government of France wants to get on to smart sustainable growth. To achieve this goal, the French Government is hosting a lunch for Mr Obama and Professor has been appointed as the Chief Consultant. He will stay in Paris for the next six months”

God knows how many such lunches Obama will need to join if the United States of America wants the world to get into sustainable development for a change – I exclaimed

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Note: This piece is a fiction and NOT a real story. No offence to Obama, Modi or the PMO – only pun intended. I am writing this note as some of my blog readers wrote to me asking whether “the Professor” was indeed hired by the PMO!  I wish he was!

Who reads Sustainability Reports?



Corporate sustainability reports have been around since four decades. The first reports were perhaps published by the chemical industries that polluted the environment and faced bad reputation and penalties. Sustainability report was more of a savvier!

Since then, more than 10,000 companies have published more than 50,000 reports, according to, which maintains a searchable database of reports.

The Global Reporting Initiative has basically cornered the market on sustainability reporting, with 78 per cent of the companies applying the GRI guidelines. This statistics rises to more than 90 per cent in some countries, like South Africa, Chile and Sweden. India has seen the biggest rise in reporting, from 20 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2013. But who really reads sustainability reports?

I was speaking last week at one of India’s leading corporate’s Sustainability Conclave. The conclave was attended by 50 sustainability champions of the Company. When the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) asked – how many of you have read the company sustainability report – only 5 showed up their hands.  The number was astonishingly low but I was surprised to see their candidness.

The CSO then asked, on page 3, we have featured a group photo where we have our Managing Director (MD). Is the photo of MD, sitting or standing? One sustainability champion ventured and said “sitting”. The CSO smiled and said that there is no such photo on page 3!

Sustainability is not yet woven into the fabric of the corporations. Sustainability reporting provides increased knowledge on the sustainability related efforts taken by the company but this has not yet changed the behaviour of investors, R&D and product designers or regulators. Regulators continue to focus on non-compliance, investors on the financial performance and the product designers limit to the conventional and large volume markets.

And how good are these sustainability reports? KPMG rated the reports of the top 250 biggest companies worldwide, and gave them an average score of 59/100. Construction and building materials did the worst of any sector, with an average score of just 46/100. So indeed there is a need to improve the way we write the sustainability reports.

Time and time again research, data and information that that goes into their sustainability report is not put to the best use. Often a company’s most interesting sustainability work is left buried in these dull but important publications that no one really reads.  You do see a new era of “sustainability designers” who use their skills in choosing fonts and colours that are appealing, present “info-graphics” and plug in “touching photos” of the poor, underprivileged women and children. Paper used is FSC certified, elemental chlorine free and even embedded with seeds.  That makes the report look special.

The reports contain annexes that contain time series data, indicators and benchmarks – especially for those who want to see details.

But most readers are not interested in tables and graphs and such statistics. They are also tired of the “touching photos”. Readers are looking for “sustainability stories” to understand company’s true sustainability credentials. Stories tell a lot – and they are sometimes more ”viral” than the numbers.  But then not many companies have good stories to tell. And to get the stories you need to talk to people.

Some companies are taking a lead in communicating sustainability more innovatively. The Co-operative 2012 Sustainability Report is one good example. It exemplifies a new trend in video storytelling to illustrate sustainability reports. Other such examples are Novo Nordisk – The Danish healthcare giant that uses hand-drawn animation to explain its commitment to fighting diabetes –  a major theme of the company’s 2012 Report.  SAP has created a dedicated Twitter hash tag #sapintegrated to help shepherd conversation around its 2013 integrated corporate and sustainability report. Visit the new SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index update that is available online. (see

Sustainability reporting is a “process” that must involve all the concerned stakeholders. Report itself is not the only objectives. The reporting “process” brings in collective ownership, data flow optimization, identification of improvement projects and fosters innovation. Everybody in the domain knows that. But in reality the reports are mostly consultant-driven with low involvement of the company staff. So reporting becomes more of  ritual.

I asked my Professor friend on these concerns about sustainability report – especially that these reports are not prepared the way they should and are hardly read.

The Professor said that he just received a contract from a large corporate to fix this problem. “The company has two large halls for lunch. I converted one of the halls as a reading room. In this room, I keep several copies of the sustainability reports that the company produces. Folks are made to wait in this hall before joining the second hall where lunch is served.  They browse and read the reports as there is nothing else to do”

I wasn’t sure whether this was going to work. So I asked. “Are you sure they will? They may not even pick up the copies…”

The Professor smiled as if he expected this question. “The lunch coupons are kept inside the sustainability reports and at random locations. You really need to browse pages of the report to find these”    


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