My Professor friend and I walked into the waiting room of the Minister of Environment in Delhi. The secretary asked the Professor to insert his Green Card in the slot machine. When Professor did, the machine made a chuckling sound like the R2D2 of Star Wars and flashed a number. That number was the sequence number for us to see the Minister. Professor’s Green Card must be highly respectable or valued as we were ushered right away to the Ministers Cabin.
When we finished our meeting (which was typically inconsequential) and reached the elevators, I asked Professor about the Green Card. Professor explained that this was Ministers pet subject and a pilot that he is soon thinking of launching all over the country.
The Green Card was proposed to be linked to the Aadhar card and pool into the central database, all the environment related parameters or attributes of the person. The Card when used for transactions (e.g. for purchasing goods at the stores, making payments at a hotel or restaurant, purchasing fuel at the petrol/diesel station, buying an air ticket etc.) will assign appropriate “green points” and calculate the person’s Green Index and rate between 0-10. If your Green Index is less than 5 for example, then you will be considered as an irresponsible citizen, and penalized so that you will be encouraged to behave responsibly. For this your Green Index should cross the minimum of 5.
Other day, one of the top executives of a Company (who was in the pilot project) realized that each time he went to the restaurant to dine, his bill was taxed 10% more as his Green Index was less than 5. When he started ordering organic food on a regular basis and chose restaurants who had energy efficient fixtures, the Green Index moved a bit beyond 6 and he got out of the 10% surcharge. So to save money and at the same time protect the environment, he had to make a behavour change. Imagine the impact once the first lot of 10 million Green Cards is issued to India’s rich and high middle class citizens. Launch of Green Card with Green Index will tame our highly consumptive and carbon intensive lifestyles. Professor said.
I thought this was rather visionary and very impressive. Perhaps, Professor’s Green Index must be close to 9 and that’s why we were the priority visitors to the Minister. (I was later told that the Visa and MasterCard companies were already holding talks with Government of India, how to bring in these elements on a universal basis on their card chips.)
“You know this Environment Minister is very fond of indicators. He likes to bring in data together and make a number out of it as an Index and disseminate the Index to the people so that they become aware. Have you read about his announcement on Air Quality Index (AQI) in Indian cities? This index has been developed by IIT Kanpur. It provides one consolidated number after tracking eight pollutants and uses color coding to describe the severity in terms of associated health impacts”
I looked up on the web and found the description of AQI and also articles that say that the Indian AQI is not so easy to understand and is not so much action oriented. (See http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-datadelve/article7083985.ece ).
When I mentioned about this observation, Professor said that making complicated indices is the current state of the art (or science). How can you have a simple index for complex issues on environment?
I suggested that why don’t we show data on the sale of respiratory drugs and inhalers instead of measuring PM10 and PM2.5? Higher is the level of PM10/PM2.5, more will be the sale of the respiratory drugs and the inhalers. So the sales statistics will serve as an Index.
We could speak to Cipla Pharmaceuticals as they have nearly 50% of the market share on such products and would be happy to sponsor a number of display boards that will post their sales each day. We will save moneys on the expensive automated air quality monitors and in fact instead earn advertising revenues. In any case, veracity of the data collected at the automated air quality monitors is rather questionable and data is as good as random numbers” I said
But the Professor probably did not hear me. He continued.
Few years ago, a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) was developed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to rank India’s industrial estates. This index was developed by IIT Delhi that made use of several complicated variables such as pollutant, pathway, receptor and additional high risk elements. (see the full report at http://cpcb.nic.in/divisionsofheadoffice/ess/NewItem_152_Final-Book_2.pdf ). Indeed, CEPI was complicated to understand but was applied over 88 industrial estates. The index was actually used for policy and taking actions. For example, the analysis showed that there were 43 industrial areas/clusters out of the 88 estates that had CEPI crossing 70. These estates were declared as critically polluted. These critically polluted industrial clusters/ areas were recommended for further detailed investigations to assess the extent of damage and a formulation of appropriate remedial action plan. In this process, several action plans got created. Don’t know how many were implemented though.
I recalled the criticism on CEPI, its questionable formulation of aggregation (e.g. additive function) and the poor quality field data that was used in arriving at the Index. The impact of publishing and using CEPI was however high as a freeze was brought on expansion and modernization of industrial units in the critically polluted areas. The Industry Associations protested. CEPI was pushed as a Policy without a proper scientific debate and stakeholder consultation.
I was wondering why simple data points could not be used to develop indicator for industrial estates/clusters. These data points could have been – overall water consumption as against water available, energy and fuel consumption, materials brought in (with octroi collected as proxy), number of workers/staff in the estate and in the neighborhood of say 1-2 kms, presence, functioning and disposal point regarding common environmental infrastructure (like common effluent treatment plant and common hazardous waste treatment and disposal facility), number of public complaints received, issues and severity etc.
The Professor was continuing as we took a taxi. He asked the taxi driver to take us to the Neeti Ayog – new avatara of the earlier planning commission. “Hope you will join me there” He said. The Primate Minister has asked me to develop an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for each State. The EPI, like usual, will range from 0-10 and higher is the value, the State will be considered as better performing on environmental matters. EPI will be used to allocate the State budgets. Todays meeting is to finalize the parameters that will be used to arrive at the EPI apart from the mathematical function (e.g.linear, weighted linear, maximum operator etc.) and the weights. It’s a high level meeting as it has the “money stake”. This approach will however transform India from an “unsustainable nation” towards path for sustainability. I have come with a fuzzy formulation of EPI to account for the foggy, manipulated and incomplete data. And I feel that this kind of formulation will make EPI look “state of the art” or contemporary and impressive.
I was overwhelmed. I realized the importance of environmental indicators in the progress of India, in environmental management (like using CEPI), in environmental communication (like the AQI) and in influencing our lifestyles through mechanisms like the Green Card.
Professor paid the taxi bill, looked at me intensely for a while and then said with his characteristic serious tone “Prasad, its finally a game. Minister wants me to develop that structure of EPI which will somehow provide least central allocation to the States ruled by the Opposition – I am identifying therefore those parameters that are representative and defensible and yet help me achieve this differential objective”
I wasn’t then envious of Professors job.
I also realized how and why such indicators were developed – essentially to fudge the real data and project the outcome what we want…. Clever.
(Cover image sourced from http://www.lamiloproject.eu/establishing-baseline-sustainability-indicators-2/)