The National Anthem, Me and Cleaner Production

item_3 Intl flags

I got into the “business of Cleaner Production” in 1989 courtesy my good old friend Fritz Balkau at the UNEP, Industry and Environment office in Paris. I had just completed a short booklet on Low or Non Waste Technologies (LNWT) for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). Stephen Paulus at FES had coaxed me to do this project in the context of Indian industries. This book argued a business case for environment by practicing pollution prevention. It cited examples from 100 odd Indian industries where innovative approaches were used. These stories were new to many industries and hence it excited the readers. (I still hold this database of 100 case studies– old stuff but if interested, do write to me)

Fritz had read my book on LNWT. He invited me to Paris for a workshop. That one invite opened new vistas for me on Cleaner Production.

Cleaner Production became a “fizz” phrase in the 1990s. A bunch of us at the office of UNEP in Paris coined this term in one of the late evening sessions. Don Huisingh was the facilitator of this session and Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel was the Director. Don is still very active, editor of the Journal of Cleaner Production and we are in touch.

Jacqueline was a phenomenal visionary and a leader. She steered the era of Cleaner Production (CP). We must give her all the credit and kudos for bringing in a change in the environmental profession.

Larderel2

(Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel – image taken from http://johnelkington.com/about/personal/others/)

The Cleaner Production program of UNEP led to ripples all over the world. Programs like WBCSD’s Eco-efficiency and APOs Green Productivity etc. followed later. These programs tried to find their own identity but could not “compete” with the expanse of the term Cleaner Production.

There were several “high level” seminars on CP conducted on biannual basis starting from Canterbury, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne, Prague etc. I was one of the regular speakers in all these Seminars. This gave me an opportunity to make lots of friends and network across the world.

Few countries where I worked extensively on CP were Thailand, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Vietnam. In these countries, I had an opportunity to work at policy as well as practice levels (demonstration projects) and run training programmes for capacity building. The period between 1996 to 2008 was a golden period for me to do something innovative, demonstrative and impactful in the area of Cleaner Production.

The Cleaner Production project In Thailand was at Samutprakarn, one of the highly industrialized clusters near Bangkok, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It was captioned as 20/20 (targeting 20% water use reduction and 20% energy consumption reduction). In Egypt, it was Support for Environmental Assessment and Management (SEAM) financed by DFID, UK that had a Cleaner Production component. SEAM program ran over six years and brought out several key publications. Indonesia operated a project called ProduksiH Bersih (means Cleaner Production in Bahasa) that was funded by the German Government. I used to travel to all these countries at regular intervals and typically spend a week – mostly working in the field.

I was involved in most of the CP activities in India. The CP activities were led by the National Productivity Council (NPC) with its National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) at the helm. Operation of Waste Minimization Circles (WMC) was one of the very unique and interesting program that was carried out by the NPC. I participated in the evaluation of WMC on behalf of the World Bank who did part financing of WMCs under the Industrial Pollution Prevention Project.

Frequent travelling –now looking back – was tiring but then I had a motto.

Don’t just travel for work; go a day early and stay two days more (if you can). Feel the place, relax, make new friends and plan for the next visit that is not connected to work. And spend the money you earn – Pamper yourself. You don’t live twice.

I did not follow this motto in my initial travels – but as I grew older and wiser, I started following it diligently. And it worked.

I love listening to live music, especially the jazz. In most (or almost all) of my travel therefore I spent time of late evenings at the jazz clubs. After a daylong work, retiring at these fountains of music was very refreshing and exciting.

So I never missed spending time at some of the great music pubs and jazz clubs. Places I used to frequent were Minh’s Jazz in Hanoi, Nui’s Blue Jazz in Bangkok, the Cairo Jazz Club and the Jaya Pub in Jakarta. Of course top in the list was the legendary jazz club Duc des Lombards in Paris. I would love to write one of these days on the experiences and encounters I have had at these great places.

LeDurcdesLombards

(Duc des Lombards in Paris – taken from http://www.directmatin.fr/loisirs/2014-06-08/paris-le-top-5-des-lieux-ou-ecouter-du-jazz-680747)

But let me return to the subject of Cleaner Production.

I liked the idea of setting targets for a Cleaner Production program such as 20/20. In Egypt, we worked with Micro Small and Medium size industries and much of the work was to help protect the industries towards exports. So we helped sectors such as textiles where exports were hit because of requirements such as Eco labels (Oeko-Tex) from the markets in EU and Americas and cheese making industries who were losing exports to Saudi Arabia due to excessive salt. In Indonesia, we promoted Cleaner Production in locations such as Jakarta, Bandung and Semarang and implemented demonstration projects with facilitation through Cleaner Production Counseling Clubs. This idea was similar to the WMCs in India.

I had opportunities to revisit countries where I worked and see the impact and sustainability of the various CP programmes. In most cases, including India, I found that the results were dismal and discouraging. There was hardly any replication of the CP demonstration projects. Further, capacity building of CP professionals was not taken up on a scale and on a programmatic basis. The activities lasted only till the “donor assistance” was available and there was no local or national ownership.

I was expecting Cleaner Production to get spread into practice on its own or “steam” as it made a good business case. Instead, I noticed that subsidies and concessional loans were offered to make CP happen!   That was strange. Economic benefits could have been the principal drivers – environmental and social benefits could have been just the icing on the cake! Indeed, why the industry does not take the path of simultaneously improving productivity and achieving environmental protection is still a puzzle.

Few years ago, I was working on CP in Bangladesh. I visited a textile processing unit near Fatulah at the outskirts of the Dhaka city. The Owner of the factory showed me all the departments and explained the various water and energy efficiency improvement measures – right from housekeeping, recycling, process and chemical change etc. These measures undertaken as a “system” were very impressive. I asked the Owner what made him implement these projects. I was expecting his answer as “.. Because of economic benefits”.

The owner instead simply said “I did this for my country”. And I was simply shocked, awed and speechless. I never expected such an answer.

I had a talk to be given on Cleaner Production at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce the next day. I asked the Owner of the textile factory whether he could join me there, show a few slides on the CP projects that he implemented and then end saying what made him implement these projects. The Owner agreed to my request.

The next day I was at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce. There were some 50 participants from industries. After my talk on CP, I asked the Owner to give his short presentation. When he finished, I asked him the question “why did you implement these projects” and he answered in Bangla “for my country”

The audience was stunned. There was silence.

And then a man in the front row got up. And he said in a low tone  “Amar sonar Bangla, Ami tomay bhalôbashi”. He was singing the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Another man in the third row got up and continued. Soon more men in the hall stood up and joined. And within minutes, all the 50 participants were standing and singing the national anthem. They did this in prompto – as if someone was orchestrating – invisible

This was simply a hair raising experience to me. I was just overwhelmed to witness this outburst of emotions.

When the meeting was over and I was returning to my hotel, I was thinking. I realized that economic reasons cannot be the only drivers for bringing in the change – especially when we talk about change in the behavior, practice and investments we do. This matters for paradigm shifts like Cleaner Production.

It has to be something much more – closer to the heart, in the interest of the country and towards the good of the world. Not just “material”

If many think and act the way the Owner of the textile factory in Fatulah did, then the world we live today would have been so different!

(cover image taken from http://www.anglimflags.com/)

Cav Cav and Swatch Bharat Abhiyan

Crow

My Professor friend just returned from a training program on learning Cav – the Crow Language. The idea was to understand conversations by the Crows. It was a two weeks intensive course that was conducted by the NACIT (Native American Crow Indian Tribe – also called the Apsáalooke). NACIT has now migrated to Canada, just south of Lake Winnipeg. This Tribe understands the cav language of the Crows and knows how to teach Cav.

 

crow-indian-3

A Crow Native (taken from https://urbannight.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/image-of-a-crow-indian-as-inspiration/)

Teaching Cav to my Professor Friend was one of the major objectives of Indo-Canadian cooperation on Science & Technology (S&T). This was perhaps as important an event as signing of the deal on the sale of Uranium for India’s nuclear plants. But very few knew about this – as the item was not listed in the bi-lateral S&T cooperation agenda, being a top secret. Only the Prime Minister (PM) and my Professor friend were involved.

Let me give you some background. PM Modi launched “Swatch Bharat Abhiyan” in India a few months ago. Since its launch, a number of initiatives were undertaken with several top personalities appointed as the ‘ambassadors’. This campaign was officially launched on 2 October 2014 at Rajghat in New Delhi, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself cleaned the road. Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) is today India’s biggest ever cleanliness drive. SBA is not only a sanitation programme but includes solid waste management and waste water management.

PM has directly linked the implementation of SBA with the economic health of the nation.  This mission, according to him, can contribute to the GDP growth, provide a source of  employment and reduce health costs, thereby furthering economic growth to reach a target of 8%.

Cleanliness is also connected to tourism and it is time that India’s top 50 tourist  destinations display highest standard of hygiene and cleanliness so as to change the global perception. SBA can bring in more tourists, thereby increasing revenue although there will be reduction in those tourists who visit India to experience the filth as a novelty.

Monitoring the progress of SBA was therefore crucial for India’s economy. Although all  conventional and routinely followed information gathering approaches were used (e.g. tapping of the telephones), the Ministries of Home Affairs and Information &  Broadcasting were unable to report the progress to the PM on a comprehensive and  reliable basis. The PM therefore consulted my Professor friend.

Professor came up with a brilliant and unconventional idea. He proposed that we mingle  with the crows and understand their perception on the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan. For crows, SBA would matter as they are so intimately connected to the state of ‘uncleanliness’.  Certainly, crows must be discussing the impact of SBA on their lifestyles and livelihoods. Therefore we must learn the cav language of the crows.

Given the serious implications of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan on India’s economy, as outlined  by the PM himself, Professor volunteered to learn the cav language. Hence the training by NACIT was taken up on top priority.

On returning from Canada, Professor went straight to one of the largest waste dumps in  Dharavi in Mumbai. As usual, he took me along to take photos and notes. There was a National Convention on Swatch Bharat Abhiyan going on as organized by the MCC (Mumbai Chapter of Crows) – not to be confused with the Mumbai Cricket Club.

Around 200 prominent crows were attending the Convention. Many crows had flown from  long distances. In few minutes, Professor told me that there were different dilects of cav spoken such as Tamil cav, Bengali cav, 22 Punjabi cav etc. He was therefore paying close attention to the speeches and conversations. He was translating all the cav spoken into  English so that I could take down notes

The President Crow was giving an opening address.

Art_crow

The President (taken from http://residentevil.wikia.com/File:Art_crow.jpg)

“The Swatch Bharat Abhiyan by PM Modi is something of great concern. We all should be worried. If this campaign actually works, then we and all our future generations will be in grave trouble. There will be a huge issue of food security i.e. food shortage. We must all work together to ensure that the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan fails. Lack of cleanliness is the foundation of sustainable development of crows and we must strive towards the same. Please share your ideas and strategies”. The President Crow ended his speech.

There was silence except the “gur gur” sound coming from the old aged crows who were the past presidents.Then a young crow who represented the Crow Youth Wing spoke “Sir,  you are right. I am coming in from the city of Warangal. In this city, a cleanup drive was carried out by the people in just one week. This was a spirited movement. As bulk of the waste was eliminated or diverted, the campaign led to starvation of some 1000 crows. These crows have fled to nearby cities. See the Warangal success story video. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tv/news/hindi/Satyamev-Jayate-2-highlights-the-importance-of-waste-management/photostory/32154207.cms. Apparently, the
Warangal experiment has inspired other cities such as Coimbatore and Vizag. That will lead to more such impacts.

A crow who represented the Political Relations Sub-committee said that all crows of the  second generation should consider migrating to non-BJP ruled States. By default, being in opposition, these States will not follow up the SBA seriously, pocket the grants while the filth continues to remain or grow. The President opined that this was an important suggestion and should be kept in mind.

There were many crows living at dump sites or landfills. They had another concern. According to them, the citizens have taken waste segregation and composting rather seriously. Many such plants are being operated in cities on a decentralized basis – some of them are community driven and some operated through partnerships with the private  sector. Therefore not much organic refuse has been reaching city landfills. It became a matter of real concern when it affected adequate supply of food. A number of case studies presented by crows living in landfills, offering heart-rending statistics on the issues of starving and malnutrition.

Then came some complaints from the female crows, in a lighter vein. They shared how  they now miss the whole fun of perching on the open container vehicles, sampling the
waste food and impressing the male crows sitting on the street lamp posts. After the launch of SBA, most city  corporations have started covering of the container vehicles. Female crows have ceased to perch on the containers and the male crows miss the whole thrill of eve-teasing. “This is leading to social fragmentation – an impact to note”, a crow who normally sits at the gate of Tata Institute of Social Sciences said in a serious cav.

A crow who used to regularly sit on the window of the office of the Dean of Indira Gandhi  Institute of Development & Research (IGIDR) in Mumbai came up with calculations on how consumption of waste by crows is saving urban India around INR 4000 million in waste management. He made a strong case that the Ministry of Urban Development set up a Crow Welfare Fund of INR 4000 million recognizing the contribution by crows. (See a very interesting article at http://birdsofindia-ssen.blogspot.in/2011/08/in-praise-of-crows.html that makes such estimates. This article shows a working that urban crows in India consume 3,150 tons of organic waste/day or 11,50,000 tons/year)

In the international session, there was a huge commotion when a Crow from Singapore presented a slide that showed how Government of Singapore had started killing crows as they didn’t need them any more due to high levels of cleanliness. The President wondered  whether such genocide may happen in India if the SBA really succeeds. Again there was a silence.

The Convention ended with the vote of thanks. While we returned to our car, the Professor overheard the conversation between two prominent crows who had not spoken at the Convention. The first crow said “I am still not worried. In India, abhiyans are often launched, glamorized and later forgotten. Investments get made but projects are not implemented properly. Much of the budget is spent in financing NGOs and not in carrying out actual awareness ampaigns. Waste is shown to have reached the designated locations but the waste is mostly dumped on the way or the containers are loaded with construction and demolition waste. This SBA will not be an exception. However, we need to track the progress of SBA on a regular basis. Let us form a core crow team and after some training, let them sit on windows of the offices of Chief Secretaries of some of the key filthy States. They should be present when meetings on SBA happen. Generally I know these meetings  will only review the past minutes of the meeting, with not much action reported on the ground and simply push the agenda for the next meeting”. When Professor translated this cav for me, I wasn’t sure whether I should record this conversation as a part of the brief to the PM. And the Professor agreed not to report to the PM.

A week later, I received a call from Secretary, Urban Development of the Government of  Maharashtra to attend a meeting on Swatch Bharat Abhiyan. I told the Secretary’s PA that the meeting should be held in an A/C conference room (where the A/C actually works) and no windows should be open.

Cover image taken from http://collect.trashpack.com/product-modal.aspx?id=286

Research Interest and Dividend in Practice – Case of Water Quality Modeling

theory-research-and-practice-in-educational-management-1-638

 

The subject of environmental modelling always interested me. But I got into this subject by accident. I remember that seminar topics were being allotted at IIT Bombay during our third year of civil engineering. We bunked the lecture where the allotment of topics was to happen and landed at the staff canteen – screaming and shouting. Prof J S R Murthy after waiting in the lecture hall reached the staff canteen to have tea. He was raging with anger and frustration. When he saw me there giggling to glory, he called on me and said, “You deserve to be punished – you will get the topic that is not chosen by others”. The topic that was left over was “DO-BOD modelling” and I didn’t realize that I was going to be stuck with this topic not just for the seminar but my entire professional life!

During our master’s days, me and my colleague Shirish Naik, continued working on DO-BOD models. Professor P Khanna was our guide. We were fascinated by the work done by two electrical engineers Koivo and Philips. This paper was published in Water Resources Research in April 1973 titled ‘On determination of BOD and parameters in polluted stream models from DO measurements only’. The feature of doing away the direct measurements of BOD and instead predict BOD concentrations using DO measurements attracted us. We attempted application of this technique on a river quality data set in Maharashtra and published our first research paper in the Journal of Indian Water Works Association (IWWA). I recall we met Professor Dr Niloy Choudhuri, Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at the annual convention of IWWA where the paper was presented. He listened to our “revolutionary idea” very patiently. He showed all the curiosity and gave encouragement. (We returned home with a great feeling that the Chairman of CPCB listened to us. Looking back now I feel that he taught me how to encourage young students even though they come up with stupid propositions!! Every idea has its worth – and should not be simply dismissed! It should be respected)

When I completed my doctoral research and returned to IIT Bombay, water quality modelling and management became a focus of my teaching and research. In 1984, I received a long telegram from the office of Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Mr T N Seshan. The telegram said that I attend the first technical meeting of experts for Ganga Action Plan (GAP) in Delhi. Newly inducted Prime Minister of India, Rajeev Gandhi was to preside over this meeting and address us.  During this meeting, Prof Choudhuri was also present. When Mr Seshan turned to him and asked what to do with this young man pointing at me (I was 28 years old then), Prof Choudhuri answered “He will take care of water quality modelling”.

Prof.Dr. Nilay Chaudhuri

The Ganga Project Directorate (GPD) of MoEF awarded me a million Indian Rs project on developing and applying water quality models on Ganga. In addition, the CPCB contracted me as a consultant for 4 days a month for 4 years to provide advice. I used to come to Delhi every month for 4 days with no prefixed agenda and sit in the offices of Prof Choudhuri at CPCB and K C Sivaramakrishnan, Project Director at GPD. These interactions gave me an insight to the Project and the Politics. In addition it exposed me to the work on water quality management happening across the world. Numerous presentations used to happen at GPD from experts, especially from countries like USA, UK, France and Germany. It is in this project, I met L Panneerselvam who was then the Joint Director. We have been close friends all these years.

Just before launching the Project,  I organized a five days International Workshop on Water Quality Management at IIT Bombay where top water quality modelers and managers participated. I built a national and international network in this process and made new friends with whom I am still in touch. Those were the golden days.

Two computer based models were developed in the GPD project – acronymed STREAM-I and STREAM-II. STREAM-I was a one dimensional DO-BOD model with calibration, verification, validation routines and importantly with an optimal waste allocation algorithm.  STREAM-II was unique and one of the firsts as it modelled DO-BOD in a two dimensional space with lateral dispersion. This was relevant to Ganga. Work done by Professor T P H Gowda in Canada was my source of inspiration. I trained around 200 professionals across the country using STREAM models including Member Secretaries and Chairmen of the State PCBs (SPCB). In this period, an extensive field application of STREAM-II took place at Allahabad Sangam where I managed a team of 40 scientists working round the clock for 72 hours. This was great experience of research administration and practice.

The team of research associates who worked with me on the STREAM project did extremely well in their careers. Juzer Dhoondia went to Deltares in the Netherlands and developed Fuse series of models. Clement Prabhakar developed MODFLOW and RT3D routines for US EPA on groundwater contamination modelling and now teaches at Auburn University. Rakesh Gelda is a lake modeler at the Upstate Freshwater Institute in New York State and worked with Prof Steven Chapra.

In the training programs, I could rope in Professors Sam James and David Eliot of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK with the support of British Council. Sam and David lectured in the training programs.

Water_Quality_modelling_GPD

(L to R: Rakesh Gelda, Juzer Dhoondia, Ramakant, S R Choudhari, Swarna Venkateswarulu, Anisul Islam, Clement Prabhakar, ?, Sam James, L Panneerselvam, Prasad Modak, David Eliot, Prof S G Joshi, ?, Prof C Natarajan, ?, Mrs Bhende, ?, ?, R Dalwani, Prof S K Gupta, Prof R S Patil – Participants to one of the Training Programs, Photo taken outside Centre for Environmental Science & Engineering at IIT Bombay)

Speaking about Newcastle reminds me of the two months of teaching, research and consulting tours that I used to do in the UK, France and Germany. These tours were over three years – between 1985 to 1987. I must thank late Professor B Nag, Director of IIT Bombay then. He used to approve my travel on the same day of application and get post-approval from IITs Board.

I used to start with Sam James group at University of Newcastle upon Tyne. We worked on some of the modelling aspects of Tees’s estuary then and did some joint teaching and guiding of PhD students. After the lectures, which many times we jointly delivered; we would walk across the golf lawns to retire at a Scottish pub at the far end. Here we would discuss the class and how we could have improved our teaching. These discussions were absolutely engaging. I don’t think in India faculty do that.

After three weeks at Newcastle, I used to reach Paris to work with Seine-Normandy river basin and be with A Leousef, the Basin Manager. Leousef preferred to use simple water quality models and focus more on decision making and economics. He was very practical and a man of action. I liked his style.

I used to live in a boutique hotel near Montparnasse Tower and enjoy romance of the city of Paris after returning from Work. I would invariably stop by to listen to the box guitars played on the streets. Me and colleagues from Seine-Normandy office would occupy wooden chairs on the Avenue Charles de Gaulle and order flutes of dark beers. Leousef would join later. He would completely disagree with our views on water quality modeling perhaps because he was not drunk and we probably were!

The next stop for me was Aachen in Germany with Professor Poppinghause. We used to do some work together on water quality management of Ruhr. Again, some teaching, some research and some guiding of students was the pattern. Emphasis was however on combinatorial optimization and operation of wastewater treatment plants.

At the end of each visit, Professor G Rinke would drive to fetch me from University of Darmstadt near Frankfurt. Prof Rinke was a very senior German Diplomat Professor.  He would drive a Porsche car.  His interest was to teach me how to take a walk through in a wastewater treatment plant and develop an insight for plant inspection.  A  different kind of Professor.

In my first car ride with him, Professor Rinke drove me though some of the uniquely designed wastewater treatment plants in the Ruhr river basin. We used to lug close to some of majestic castles, pass through thick patches of forests and stop at places where the beers were the best! The conversations were most educative and rewarding. I wish Professors in India take along students on such conversational modes.

Once driving, Prof Rinke took a diversion. When I asked, he simply said – “let me introduce you to a friend”. We reached an old castle like house after a few kilometers of drive. It was evening time and the door was opened by an old man with sharp eyes. He shook hands with Professor Rinke and both exchanged greetings – excited conversation happened in Deutche. Sure they were meeting after a while. Professor Rinke then turned to me and said “Meet Klaus – Klaus Imhoff”. I was shocked and simply overwhelmed – I was meeting the Guru of this Century on Wastewater management and so casually.

Dr Klaus Imhoff got us some Ruby wine and when learnt about my passion to teach, he asked me to go upstairs. “You will find an old wooden chest of drawers there” he said “Open the drawers and choose any slides you wish – they may help you to teach”.

When I went upstairs and opened the drawers, I saw a neat stack of metal framed slides with wonderful shots of wastewater treatment plants, unusual units and varied configurations… To me it was like how Alibaba must have felt after entering the cave of gold. I did not know where to start and what not to take! I spent more than 15 minutes looking around.

And then came a voice from the ground floor. “Oh Young Man, take as many slides you want. These are all duplicate sets. Feel free to pick”. And I simply celebrated Dr Imhoff’s suggestion. I still hold today that priceless collection of Dr Imhoff’s slides.

So my “research interest” in water quality modelling gave me much more “practice dividend”. It taught me how to work with the Government, build national and international networks and meet personalities that inspired and humbled. Indeed, research contribution was one of the outcomes – but education for life was perhaps something much more – that I long cherish today.

Cover picture sourced from http://www.slideshare.net/jonaldjustine/theory-research-and-practice-in-educational-management

Chitragupta’s Apprenticeship at the EPA

ChitraGupta

Lord Chitragupta was bored in the Heavens. He was tired of keeping records of “paap” (bad deeds)” and “punya“(good deeds). There was nothing exciting in his job as most souls that arrived had a “punya deficit” and were sent to the “Naraka” (i.e. hell) with 100 lashes to begin with. Very few were sent to the heaven with a flower of welcome bouche.

So Chitragupta went to his master Yama (Dharma Raja) and asked for leave for two weeks. Yama was startled. “How can I grant you a leave? What will happen to the thousands of souls whose records you provide me every day to deliver the fair judgment? There is no replacement to you. I wish Lord Brahma thought about this earlier and given birth to two Chitraguptas with one as stand bye”

(Incidentally, those of you who don’t know – in ancient Indian mythology, Chitragupta, son of Brahma, is the scribe who records all actions of every human being. These records are reviewed by Yama for judging the soul after death.

It is said that Yama would become confused sometimes when dead souls would come to him, and would occasionally send the souls to either heaven or hell wrongly. Lord Brahma, determined to solve this problem sat in meditation for thousands of years. Finally, when he opened his eyes, Chitragupta stood before him. Chitragupta, sometimes referred to as the first man to use letters, is known to be incredibly meticulous, and with his pen and paper tracks every action (good or bad) of every sentient life form. These perfect and complete documents are referred to in mystical traditions as the “Akashic” records. Each year, Chitragupta is supposed to start his new book of accounts in the month of Chitiraj (April 14-May 15). The time had come to open the New Book. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitragupta)

Chitragupta said “Not to worry. April-May is a season in India with least number of deaths because most travel abroad for vacations where the environment is less polluted (i.e. less chances to die). He then provided guidance to Yama on the judgment that he could use without seeing records e.g. A politician – should be sent to the hell right away with no hesitation; An IAS officer with more than 10 transfers in 2 years – a case to heaven as he must be too honest etc. Yama was surprised with Chitragupta’ insight and confidence. “And when I come back, I will check your judgments with actual records and “adjust”. I am sure there will be very few cases of reversals or changing the level of rewards and punishments”

Yama agreed. This should not be a problem to Indian souls as they are quite used to or familiar with Court’s changing judgments and stands, reversals in some cases especially on environmental clearance. He was not wrong.

“OK, I let you go but what will you do for the next two weeks?” He asked Chitragupta

‘I was thinking of doing something different. I thought of joining one of the Pollution Control Boards in India or Green Bench as an Apprentice and help in environment related records of “paap” and “punya”. Perhaps my meticulous record keeping could help the decision making bodies in India for making a sound environmental judgment”

“That’s an amazing idea” Yama said – “Tathastu” (God bless)

Chitragupta closed his eyes and with his divine powers appeared at newly constituted office of Environmental Protection Authority in Delhi. There was a long queue at the counter for filing application of a position of a clerk as a replacement for two weeks. This position was to keep records of consents, environmental clearances, quarterly monitoring reports, cess returns, environmental statements etc. and present these records to the judging committee as required.

When Chitragupta reached the counter after two hours of waiting and elbowing in the queue, the man at the counter asked. “Where are the attachments? Aadhar card, proof of residence, last three years of Income Tax returns?” Chitragupta had none of these and did not know anything about. Man at the counter glanced at the filled up form – under experience, it was written – over 10,000 years; more than 10 billion cases handled. “Is this some joke”? Chitragupta explained and ended saying that he was prepared to work for 2 weeks with no salary expectations.

We don’t know what finally worked, whether his vast experience or the offer to work for free, but Chitragupta was ushered to the cabin of the Member Secretary in the next one hour by Joint Chief Environmental Engineer (JCEE)

The proceedings were on. A committee of six experts was sitting. The Member Secretary (MS) took a look at Chitragupta and told JCEE “Theek lagta hai (looks alright)” ask him to join office in next two days – get him trained on records and get familiar with our filing system”. Chitragupta did not want to waste two days, especially walking around in the polluted air of Delhi. “Can I start working from right now?” – He asked.  “OK, MS said reluctantly, sit on this stool and just listen. Today, our JCEE is managing the records”

The case being heard was of M/s GoodEarth Chemicals Inc. This case was towards renewal of the consent to operate. The Environmental Consultant to the company wearing a black suit and a red tie, presented the records on all the environment related matters with all the earnest and elegancy. “We have been 24×7 compliant Sir. All parameters are well within the limits and in some cases even below the detectable limits. We have competent staff and a sophisticated laboratory that is NABL certified. We have been paying cess regularly. The energy and water consumption per ton of product is reducing every year at the rate of 5%”.The MS and the Committee members nodded and glanced at the records provided by the JCEE to countercheck “Good, looks OK – go ahead”.

“We are ISO 14001, OHSAH 18000 and SA 8000 compliant Sir. We were awarded as the best green company in India for the last year. We have started publishing Sustainability Report as per GRI Version 4.  And we practice CSR in both letter and spirit. ” The MD of the company got up and placed 7 copies of beautifully designed Sustainability Reports on the table “with our complements Sir”, he said in a husky voice.

The Committee was clearly pleased.

Chitragupta closed his eyes and with his divine powers looked at records that could NOT be seen by the Committee.   GoodEarth Chemicals wasn’t so good to the earth as it claimed. Pollution parameters on average were within limits, but there were many occasions of spikes and on contiguous basis, especially at night. Much of the COD was vaporized from the VOC release from the aeration tank where there were no stipulations. Much of the sludge generated was hazardous but was shown as non-hazardous by carefully reporting concentrations/kg below the thresholds. The 14001/18000/8000 certifications that were mentioned were obtained from “lax” and “easy to influence” certifiers, who charged least from the market. The Green award that was obtained was from an NGO that received grant from GoodEarths CSR budget!”

Chitragupta was therefore not comfortable with the records presented. He looked at the company representatives waiting outside in the lounge for their turn with his divine eyes. He saw that there were some genuine companies but looked more under stress and worried despite the good deeds done. There were more companies of the kind of GoodEarth who had a facade and were accompanied by Environmental Consultants. They did not have so worried faces. They looked confident.

After some ten such case hearings, Chitragupta stepped out with an excuse to go to the loo.He could not resist. He dialed Yama using the special mobile phone that was provided to him by the dead soul of late MD of one of the 2G scam telecom companies.

“My master” he said (breathing heavily). “The environmental records at EPA in India is a real mess. Most of the times, the records are neither complete nor trustworthy. The judgments made on this basis are going to be clearly wrong and unfair. I think I should stay here a bit longer to fix the problem by showing the Committee (and more so to the people) – what the real records are. Instead of rewarding and punishing souls after death (which I feel is too late!), we should start the process right upfront – and here on the earth itself”.

When Yama had picked up Chitragupta’s call, he was on his way to meet Lord Brahma to present his business plan for FY 2015-2016. “Let me add in my plan opening of an overseas office of environmental justice in India. But I cannot spare Chitragupta. I must put there a clone by asking Dr Joshua Lederberg, – who arrived with us in 2008.Let me put in my budget his consulting fees and couple of travels to Delhi”

Chitragupta returned to the heaven the very next day cancelling his 13 days remaining leave.

(Joshua Lederberg,  (May 23, 1925 – February 2, 2008)[ was an American molecular biologist known for his work in microbial genetics, artificial intelligence, and the United States space program. He was just 33 years old when he won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that bacteria can mate and exchange genes)

 

Cover image sourced from http://www.astrology.sify.com