Who’s Safeguard Anyway?


(Cover image sourced from http://mart21.ru/components/com_virtuemart/shop_image/product/5saf.jpg)

It’s clear that the world needs development banks both to scale up the level of investment  and to give developing countries better representation in the world of development finance. Yet these new banks need to play another role: championing sustainability as they usher in more development. Will this really happen?

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was proposed by China in 2013 and was  launched at a ceremony in Beijing in October 2014. AIIB was to be fully established by the end of 2015.

AIIB is considered by some as a rival to the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which are regarded as dominated by developed countries
like the United States. The United Nations has dubbed the launch of AIIB as ‘scaling up financing for sustainable development’ for the concern of Global Economic Governance.

As of April 15, 2015, almost all Asian countries and most major countries outside Asia had joined the AIIB, except the US, Japan (which dominated the ADB) and Canada. China is a major contributor to AIIB followed by India and Russia.

It was late in the night in Mumbai. There were sixty people in the banquet room of the  legendary Taj Mahal Hotel having a buffet dinner. Out of the sixty, fifty seven were Ministers of the member countries who represented the newly-formed Asian Investment  Infrastructure Bank (AIIB)

The meeting was chaired by the two Premiers – of course, of China and of India. (China  holds nearly 29% of the stake in AIIB and India enjoys around 9%)

The sixtieth person in the room was my Professor Friend who had recently assumed the  position of the Advisor to AIIB on Environment and Social Safeguards (ESS). He was
sitting next the two Premiers.

I was also around, but was not officially included in the list for obvious reasons. I was  asked to be disguised as a waiter and serve a blend of Chinese and Indian (means Gujarati) food. Fortunately, the members of the AIIB were cooperative and tolerant of such a terrible cuisine combination.

Strict instructions were issued to ensure that there was no American presence inside and  outside of the Taj property. All American tourists in the Taj Mahal hotel were evacuated and sent to hotels in Kabul at discounted rates. This was because Americans were not supporting AIIB and, in particular, the World Bank Group had considered AIIB as a threat.

To sabotage AIIB, I was told, the World Bank had instigated a host of international NGOs to ask AIIB questions on their Environmental and Social safeguards. A special capacity building program for NGOs was launched to this effect, under the Technical Assistance of some Trust Funds. I was told that these funds generally dump money and don’t look at the outcomes.

In an interview to the Wall Street Journal, the President of the World Bank had said that AIIB will be diluting the ESS while funding trillions of dollars of infrastructure projects. This will cause unevenness across development financing institutions of the World and pose risks to the very sustainability of the planet. He sounded concerned.

The management of AIIB strongly disagreed with the President’s statement.

My Professor friend had completed a research investigation and had found that it was in fact the World Bank (WB) that was systematically diluting the ESS over the past two decades. The new draft ESS of the World Bank was a glaring example of how one can make a clever blend of dilution and complexity a maze of ambiguous procedures and of passing the buck when it came to the accountability.

A Chinese version of the Professor’s report was intentionally leaked. This led to a fierce global discussion and arguments on AIIB vs. WB safeguards. Several people undertook lessons in Mandarin just to read and understand Professor’s findings and participate in the debates. The percent of population ‘able to read and speak Chinese’ was in fact expected to increase over the next three months. I was really impressed with Chinese Premier’s strategy. I suggested to my Professor friend that India should also leak this report in the national language Gujarati, Oops! Hindi.

While the dinner was getting served at the round tables, the Premiers opened the meeting. The Chinese Premier introduced the purpose of the meeting and Indian Premier welcomed the members of AIIB. Discussion on AIIB’s environmental and social safeguards was the  focus. My Professor friend presented his investigative report on what’s happening on ESS across institutions like the WB, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, JICA, and KfW etc. It appeared that most of these institutions were (happily) following the WB ESS. WB was the ‘big daddy’.

The first question came from the representative from Russia while he was having Chinese  soup with a dash of Methi. “How do we handle Environmental activist organizations? We want to do what we want to do. But then how do we ensure that these activist organizations remain quiet?”

The Indian Premiere smiled and said “Look, it’s easy. First put all the environmental activist organizations under the scanner of Ministry of Home Affairs. Get their books of accounts checked by the Enforcement Directorate. More than 80% of such organizations would have flouted the rules under Foreign Exchange Regulations Act (FERA) one way or other. Issue notices and freeze their accounts/funds transfer. Once done, no activist organization will raise a voice against what AIIB will do. We have already done this in India and this step has removed all the barriers to the investment flows in India’s infrastructure sector. There is now a queue of international investors. There are no public protests anymore! In fact the other day, leaders of Indian media approached me in despair that there were no more stories to tell about people protesting infrastructure projects even if the projects posed risks to our natural reserves. Media is now asking me for alternate news bytes. I am helping them by exposing some of our own scams and scandals! But that’s another story”.

Member from Russia got convinced.

“How about the process of public consultation and conducting of analyses of alternatives  etc.” The member from Brazil said while sampling Undhiyo. I served another portion of  Undhiyo to the Member to show my appreciation for the pointed question he asked. I also placed a glass of Lassi on his table because I knew he did not know the impact of the spice in Undhiyo.

My Professor friend interjected:

“AIIB will mostly support refinancing of the projects. In refinancing, most of the water  has already flown under the bridge. The project is already halfway so most of the steps of  ESS cannot be executed. There is no public consultation to be done nor are project  alternatives to be explored and evaluated. We will still say that public consultation and alternatives are hallmarks of AIIB’s Environmental and Social Safeguards – but when situations are beyond control and when the interest of the development of the country is to be looked at, we will abide by what is proposed and getting implemented. For the sake of completeness, however, we will conduct an Environmental and Social Due Diligence (ESDD) and if gaps are found we will provide Technical Assistance (TA) to address them and will encourage the borrower to comply”

Wow! I was impressed. This was a great example of avoidance and passing the buck.

“And remember”, the member from Netherlands said, “Let us all continue to focus more  on project preparation (i.e. application of ESS to create documentation) and less on the supervision (i.e. implementation of ESS). We should follow the World Bank here. The WB and most of the development financing institutions spend 70% of the resources in getting project approvals and use 30% or even less sometimes, to check whether ESS is actually implemented in letter and spirit. I like this style as it shows the rigor at the superficial level, provides green jobs to all the (brown) environmental and social consultants and creates employment with hefty pensions to all the Bank staff. We must keep producing smart documents, upload them on our website (anyway hardly anyone reads them) and create records so that we can defend ourselves should anyone question us – of course if at all”

I found this approach really strategic. I decided to add a scoop of chocolate ice cream with Chinese wheatgrass on the gentleman’s plate.

The question & answer session continued further and several bright ideas emerged on AIIB’s comprehensive ESS. My Professor friend was taking meticulous notes. Meet me tomorrow to write down the minutes, he whispered to me while gobbling a piece of crunchy Chinese chicken rolled in amsul sauce.

As the meeting was about to end (and so was the food), the member from Mongolia asked a question.

“How about application of ESS to the Treasury department of AIIB? Will there be any restriction or guidance on where our own Treasury will invest? In order to multiply our own money for infrastructure investments, we will need to put our money in funds of funds that will provide at least 20% of returns and AAA rating. I reckon that investing in funds of funds that may, in turn, invest in mines will be good as the mines today are giving great profits. But will mines be in the exclusion list of AIIB’s investments?”

“What about the environmental and social mess the mines create – how can AIIB invest in  mines?” I was about to ask this question but realizing that I was supposed to be in disguise, simply zipped my mouth.

The Chinese Premiere smiled like Buddha

“Oh, no worries, we will apply the principle of exclusion selectively to the Treasury department. We will keep the money in the funds of funds and won’t go too much downstream to investigate where money will actually be invested. So the downstream projects could well be mines. And my friend – don’t ask this question again”

He then turned to the Professor “Get me details on where does the Treasury of the World Bank, IFC, KfW etc. invest – which sectors, which fund of funds and markets are their favorites and to what extent do they apply Environmental and Social safeguards for their own investment operations. Let us copy their style in toto. We will have to stay consistent. After all, we have to take care of our own safeguards”

Well, this is just a satire and not the real story!

I would recommend that you visit http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/04/asia%E2%80%99s-investment-bank-new-chapter-sustainable-development

This page poses a number of critical questions to the ESS of Development Financing Institutions and these questions are worth pondering over.

You may also like to read letter to the World Bank by US Senate



Saying you live in India


I received an invitation to speak at a Cleaner Production Seminar in Lisbon around 1993. Mrs. Pineda from the Department of Industry, a very enthusiastic personality and a person of passion and action was my host. Two more colleagues were invited – one was an Australian and the other was a Dutch. We knew each other before.

We arrived a day early. Mrs. Pineda had organized a dinner with the Minister of Industries in the evening with select officials and industry representatives. Dinner was served on the terrace of the Ministers bungalow with range of Portuguese wines and cheese to start with. The terrace gave a great view of the city of Lisbon with old mansions and thick tree foliage.

Just then we were mingling with the invitees and having a chat on their interest in Cleaner Production, Mrs. Pineda approached me. “Ministers Secretary wants to speak to you” she said and ushered me to a room adjoining the terrace. After some pleasantries, Ministers secretary asked me for a short CV for introducing me the next day at the Seminar. “You are an Indian I know – but currently based in New York – right?” When I said no and said that I always lived in Bombay/Mumbai, India; he asked me once again the same question and this time added that of course your original base could be Mumbai but isn’t it that for past several years you have been away and mainly residing in the United States. I said politely negative. I have always been a Bombay person! I said this with no loss in the pride.

The Secretary got me a glass of Portuguese red wine and disappeared.

After few moments, Mrs. Pineda approached me once again and asked me to follow her to the Minister. Minister wants to have a word with you she said.

Minister was a very impressive personality. He greeted me at the outset and welcomed. “Is this your first visit to Portugal? Stay over for couple of more days and do tour around. There is so much to see. And don’t miss attending a Fado. We have organized a Fado rendition in one of the antique cellars tomorrow night”

(Although the origins are difficult to trace, fado is commonly regarded as a form of song that follows a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade, or “longing”, symbolizing a feeling of loss)

portugal_fado_lisabon (10)

A Fado Performer

(image from http://www.zanimljivaputovanja.com/slike/MAPE-arhiv/Slike/Portugal/Fado/)

I was of course very keen to listen to Fado.

Minister then said – “I just was told that live in Bombay right now. I always thought that you resided in New York”

I once again explained.

Minister then came a bit close to me and spoke in low voice and with some concern “Dr Modak, I know about your work internationally and that’s the reason why we invited you here. However, the industry in Portugal is still kind of biased when it comes to listening or sharing of knowledge – they won’t be able to take it from an Indian living in Bombay. It’s alright for them to receive these inputs from a Dutch, an Australian expert or someone from the United States”. He paused. I could see he was embarrassed on what he just said. He continued.

“Will it be OK Dr Modak, it we introduce you tomorrow as an Indian, born in Bombay but currently residing and working in New York? This is a small change, but if you accept my request it will really help”

I did not know what to say! I told the Minister in all polite way and respect that I will go by my true introduction and that I should be introduced as born, living and working in Bombay. The Minister listened.

When Mrs. Pineda came to drop me to the hotel post dinner, she brought up the conversation I had with the Minister and his suggestion. “I am sorry what he said – but he really has a point. You may find response from the industries tomorrow rather lukewarm after the introduction”.

“Well Mrs. Pineda. I rather be what I am” I said this now in a bit of firm tone.

The next day Seminar was opened by the Minister and all three of us were introduced. I was the last speaker. All three of us did pretty well. The Minister stayed throughout the session.

Contrary to the worries of the Minister, my presentation was well received by the industry participants. There were number of questions asked and specific advice was requested. The translator had a tough time as the discussions became rather animated after a while. The Minister was extremely pleased.

We were to make field visits to industries after the Seminar. Mrs. Pineda called on three of us. She told my Australian colleague that he will have to travel over an hour and visit the food packaging industries. Our Dutch friend was told to spend the whole of next day as his visit to electroplating industries entailed 2 hours of drive each way. Then Mrs. Pineda turned to me and said “Prasad, you will need to spend three days in the field. We are sending you to Covilha. You will start now”

Why don’t you like me Mrs. Pineda I said? Why this torture to me?”

Mrs. Pineda took me aside and said “Dud, you don’t realize what you getting into? Textile Industries in Covilha were present today and they are really impressed with your work. They would like you to do in- plant visits. And more than that, Covilha is great tourist destination, right on the mountains. My colleague Paulo will drive you there. There is a century old Vila reserved for you to stay – Our Minister has personally intervened”

Covilhã 2


I was simply excited as I was keen to take on an excursion outside Lisbon.

Paulo drove me to Covilha. It was around 280 km of distance each way. We travelled to the mountains via wine yards, stopped at a Fado cellar in the evening and sampled the famous Adega wine.

Covilhã Adega

Paulo turned out to be very talkative person. He kept talking about his life and narrated to me all about his family, especially his elder sister Maria. He simply adored his sister. In our journey to and fro Covilha, I learned so much about Maria – her moods, her dress sense, her fancies, her career interests etc. Maria was specializing in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). “One day I will introduce you to Maria” Paulo said and a bit proudly.

Of course in the process of our non-stop dialogue, Paulo extracted everything about me – my wife Kiran, kids Devika and Pranav and our life in Bombay. I also told him my Minister story.

I returned from Lisbon with great experience of being in Covilha. The travel, stay and interactions with industries was memorable.

The very next month I was in Shanghai to attend the annual convention of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). I was standing in the registration queue.

There were two women chatting in the front of me.  One of them was extremely talkative. She was telling her friend “my brother Paulo drove an Indian to Covilho last month– this Indian guy was very interesting and both had long conversations. Paulo is now so much enameled with him that he wants to holiday in India and visit Bombay. He wants me to join too”.

I immediately understood that I was standing right next to Paulo’s dear sister Maria.  What a coincidence – something hard to believe

“May I” I interrupted their conversation and introduced myself without mentioning Paulo.

The queue was long enough for more conversations. Amongst other topics, I spoke about face reading, science of phrenology and works reported in the Purushsuktam of ancient Indian scripts on how to read minds.

That’s a new piece of information about India– my brother Paulo should know – Maria said

Then concentrating on Maria’s face, I offered to tell her “her story”.

“Maria -you like green color, you are allergic to milk products, you like to travel, especially on the sea coasts, you tend to spend a lot. You are a professor at the Lisbon University. And I went on and on and  told her everything I knew about her from Paulo.

Maria was simply amazed. She told her friend that all what I said was really true. “This makes even a more interesting case to visit India. How could you make out so much about me by simply looking at my face? And so much personal information that only my brother will know – and so much in detail? She exclaimed. You must teach me how did you?

I just smiled – decided not to tell her the secret – but then eventually did.

Maria and I met couple of times later in the IAIA meetings. Last I saw her was in a meeting organized by UNEP in Geneva. Today, Maria has published extensively in EIA and has a book that is well respected on the subject of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment. I really respect her work.

This is a pretty old story – some 20 years ago and I don’t know whether the bias still remains.

I never met Paulo nor Mrs. Pineda. I plan to visit Covilha once again this November.

Listen to Fado and sip Adega wine.

Ten Rupees, RD and Nani Palkhivala


Science, Administration and Politics are often difficult dots to connect. But if you do connect them well, to form a circle, then the magic of “ripples” happens!  You can potentially bring in the change.

Dr R D Deshpande (RD) was one personality who showed me how.

He was a friend, guide and a storm in my life. I miss him today very much.

A very powerful, turbulent and impatient personality – Dr Deshpande held a doctoral degree on Marine Biology from the UK. He spent years in Department of Science and Technology (DST) as Director in Government of India. Did a stint at the Indian Consulate in Washington DC over four years. Accompanied Mrs. Indira Gandhi on key missions as scientific attaché. He had a great understanding of politics of science and knew how to cultivate connections.

He used to be in the circle of Who’s Who in India. Some told me that he was connected to the Indian intelligence agency – RAW. I don’t think this was true. And he was close to the senior politicians – I recall with people like Chief Minister Sharad Pawar.

I met Dr Deshpande for the first time in Bangkok, when he was working with UNEP Regional Office. We were attending a meeting organized by ESCAP. We took an instant liking for each other. He was very warm to me. I was only 26 years then. He must be close to 55.

Dr Deshpande discussed with me my career plans and we met in his office few times. He used to narrate to me his own career, his experiences and stress on how one must integrate science, science administration and the politics of science to be “effective”. Mere science is not enough he used to say. I found these conversations very stimulating.   This was a great learning for me.

I started teaching at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay in 1984. One day when I was holding my class, I got an urgent message from the Office of Director to come right away to his office. I was wondering – did I do something wrong? I closed my class abruptly – and wrapped up.

When I reached Professor B Nag’s office, who was then IIT Bombay’s Director, I saw Dr RD sitting there. That was a pleasant surprise. “Dr Deshpande dropped in just now and was keen to see you. He wants you to accompany him to the Chairman of HLL, Dr Dutta – that’s why I asked you to come right away” Professor Nag said.

Dr RD was in a hurry. He told Professor Nag “Prasad is my old friend, take good care of him!” As he left for the loo, Professor Nag turned to me and whispered “How the hell you know this man? He is very influential. He seems to like you, do stay in touch with him”. And we continued to remain in touch.

Dr RD used to live in Pune after his “retirement” and in the later part of his life, became Senior Advisor to the Tata Group. He was heading the Environment and Natural Resources Division of Tatas. I worked with him on a project from Asian Development Bank (ADB) as a Consultant and used to shuttle to Pune. In the evening we used to spend time at a pub either 10 Downing Street in Gera Plaza or Zamus on the Dhole Patil Road. We used to order garlic mushrooms and draft beers. The conversations used to be on varied topics– such as diplomacy in organizations such as UN, ADB etc., scientific administration in DST, Corporate behavior and political obligations etc. I still cherish these conversations, some serious and some fun stories with implicit pieces of advice.  He used to say that when you take up an assignment, map the people who matter, work on them to ensure that studies or advice you would provide is heard by the right people. You need to network and cultivate relationship with some of the powerful personalities in the society not always for professional reasons but to understand their vision and the power they wield.

One day, I was in Nariman Point area of Mumbai and got a call from Dr RD to show up right away to the Commonwealth Building opposite the Air India tower. There was never a chance to say no to Dr RD. So I took a taxi obediently and reached Commonwealth. Many powerful personalities of the Tata group lived in the Commonwealth building. It’s an address in Mumbai.


Commonwealth in Nariman Point, Mumbai

When I reached Commonwealth, I saw Dr RD waiting for me impatiently in the lobby. Why so late? He frowned. I am taking you to Nani. “You mean Nani Palkhivala?” I said in a tone all shell shocked. Who is other Nani – Dr RD shouted.


Nani Palkhivala, India’s respected Jurist and Top Economist

We reached the elevator and the liftman sitting on the stool got up to open the collapsible door. Dr RD said “Give this man 10 Rs.” I did not know why, but simply followed Dr RD’s instructions and gave the liftman 10 Rs. When we reached the sixth floor and were getting out, Dr RD turned to the liftman, pointed at me and said “Ye apne Saab hai, jab dekhoge tab salaam karna mat bhulo” (He is the boss, whenever you will see him don’t forget saluting him).

When we rang the doorbell, the door was opened by a simple looking tall man with thick spectacles – and that was the legendary Nani Palkhivala. Nani greeted us and made us sit in the drawing room. I was introduced. Dr RD and Nani must be old and close friends and so the conversations began like a breeze. I was made party to the conversations and was not left out. The topic of discussion was India’s measure of true progress – not GDP but the Gross Ecological Product. I was quite excited to chip in and gave my views to my abilities. Both gave me patient hearing. We had I recall two rounds of masala tea with masca biscuits. The conversations were simply phenomenal and listening to Nani Palkhivala on extempore basis and in person was a treat.

When the clock on the wall chimed to six, Nani Palkhivala stopped and told Dr RD that now was his time to take a walk on the Marine Drive. Dr RD also had to go to take flight to Nagpur. So we all got up, Nani changed, told his servant to prepare the dinner. We opened the door, came to the sixth floor foyer and pressed button for the lift. The lift arrived and so the liftman sitting inside on the stool. He opened the collapsible door, saw me, and saluted to me in style. Nani Palkhiwala was surprised.

“You seem to be a regular to the Commonwealth then” he said.

That meant a lot!

When we reached the ground floor, Dr RD’s car was waiting to take him to the airport. I was about to step out too and just then Nani asked me casually

“Why don’t you join me for the walk? I would like to continue our discussions, Are you in a hurry to go?”

Of course I was not in a hurry. I joined him for the walk. Walking with one of India’s intellectual giants along the sea was so illuminating and memorable.

We returned to the Commonwealth after an hour. Nani took the lift upstairs after saying goodbye. Drop in again he said– and need not be with Dr RD.

After the lift came down on reaching Nani on the 6th floor, the liftman saw me waiting and said “saab, kuch chahiye?” (Sir, do you need anything?”)

I gave him another note of 10 Rs and said – “rakho” (keep). To me this was an advance for the next visit. The liftman saluted.

I understood Dr RD’s strategy.  The key was timing. When and whom to give 10 Rs mattered.

10 Rs made my life that day.

Still Looking for the Three


When I was contracted for the first time by the World Bank, I remember the conversation with the Task Manager. After the scope of work was discussed, he asked me – can you estimate the number of days effort you will take to complete the tasks? And send me your CV in the World Bank format so that I will get your daily rate fixed by the HR.

I didn’t understand the concept of daily rate then. It took some time for me to get my CV cast in the World Bank format. It was quite a self-revelation. Estimating the number of days of effort was also not easy. I did few iterations so as to propose something reasonable and acceptable.

After the CV was forwarded, a few weeks later I received the contract that stated that I will be paid at the rate of US 500/day over 20 days to deliver the tasks stated in the Terms of Reference attached.  And I was commissioned.

I did many such assignments afterwords. Each year, the daily billing rate was enhanced by some 5% and sometimes by 10%. Most senior consultants hovered around the rate of USD 600 to 1000/day across institutions.

I always wondered how the HR fixed the daily rates just based on the CV. Of course the qualifications and experience were always considered but honestly how could a CV alone reflect a person’s competency for the task? For example, REAL number of years of experience differs from the INTEGER number! I therefore had reservations on the logic of arriving at the daily rate. I hold these reservations even today.

I was working with a senior Dutch colleague on a project where we were contracted by the Royal Netherlands Embassy. During one of the dinners, he asked me whether I work on the daily rates. When I said yes, he strongly advised me not to follow this practice. Getting paid by daily (or nightly!) rates is just like prostitution he said. You should be charging based on the outcomes. Charge low if outcomes intended don’t materialize and charge a premium if the outcomes do happen. This has nothing to do with the daily rates and the number of days.

When he saw me a bit dumb founded, he further explained

“Recently, Vice President of SAS Airlines contracted me. He had developed a Sustainability Awareness Program (SAP) for SAS and its customers but did not have buy in from the CEO. He asked me to make a presentation to the CEO, improving further on his ideas. The objective was to get a fund sanctioned of a minimum of 800,000 USD for the SAP.

The Vice President said – “I will pay you 50,000 USD as the fee if you get me this budget sanctioned and if not I will pay you only 8000 USD”.  If I had gone by your daily rates logic, then the presentation would have taken 10 days of my time for research and improvisation and I would have got paid a flat fee of 10,000 USD. So his offer was fare. Fortunately, I did well and got the budget for the Vice President sanctioned. Made good money.

I thought this was like a jugad. But then my Dutch friend had a point.

I told him that organizations like the World Bank don’t think that way. Whether there are outcomes or not, you get paid for the time you spent! Few care for the outcomes. My Dutch friend said, then don’t work for the World Bank. Go to the clients who want to see outcomes, do partnership or a deal with you on risk and opportunity and through this – understand your value better. And if you follow my advice then you won’t need to work for 200 days in the year – as you will make same money over just 60 days. You can live life better, feel good and do something else useful for society. You don’t live life just for yourself.

This conversation made an impact on my mind. I wished if I could follow his advice

I started working in Indonesia for a Asian Development Bank (ADB) project on development of a Computer based EIA using Expert System. I used to frequent to Jakarta to conduct knowledge engineering workshops with Indonesian EIA experts.  Dr Emil Salim was the Minister of Environment then, He is a well-known conservation economist. A towering personality. One day, Dr Salim asked me to accompany him to Bogor. He was to address a meeting on Biodiversity Conservation and wanted me to visit some of the botanical gardens in Bogor along with him. Bogor is a city near Jakarta with thick forests and rains drizzling all through the year. It’s also a place where maximum frequency of lightening takes place.

Tempat Wisata Bogor Murah Terbaru 2015

(Bogors Botanical Garden)

We reached Bogor during the lunch time and Dr Salim took me to a place where you get some of the best beef pepper steaks. Both the place and food were enjoyable and the lunch was indeed a gastronomical treat with enlightening conversations with Dr Salim. Our conversations drifted along various topics – crosscutting professional and personal interests. When I mentioned to Dr Salim my dilemma on consulting in general, the illogical concept of daily rates and feeling of getting trapped as number of days get booked over the year through contracts etc., he smiled.

“I must introduce you to the four Canadian consultants who work in Bogor. I will drop you to their office – then go to my meetings and later pick you back for the tour to the botanical gardens. You will enjoy meeting with them”.

We reached a complex of 5 villas tucked in a thick cluster of trees after taking a few detours little in the outskirts of the city. There was a large Vila at the Centre and the four other villas were around placed like quadrants. We reached the central Villa through a winding road with tall trees dotted on the either sides. I learned later that the central Villa was the office or headquarters of the “company”.

The company was founded and run by four Canadians. All the four were working in the environment, natural resources and social sectors focusing in biodiversity conservation and impact assessment. Three men and one woman. They actually followed my Dutch friend’s model. Being really on the top of the line, they were successful to deliver the outcomes to the clients and the clients paid them “success fees” at the premium. So they worked only three months in the year and again intermittently. They were always “booked” in advance.

What about the remaining time? I asked John, one of the senior Principals of the Company.

“Well, we have a well-stocked library in the Villa – so we read. We also write and publish monographs/working papers regularly. We trek. Our wives are interested in cooking and so we have done up a great large kitchen here where we cook health organic food. Every week there are innovations and experiments Peter paints and Laura sings with a box guitar. And we have a great stock of wines and we a sport a well-stocked bar”

Peter told us that they love to receive guests of equally creative minds. So there are weekends generally with the visitors. This has been always refreshing.

All the four families live in the Vilas around the Central “office”. That’s the privacy. Being old friends however, there is a continuous mingling between the Vilas, especially the children. Jim’s family (Jim is a biodiversity specialist) does not have children so he has volunteered mentoring of all the kids. He is a great teacher. “Our children are brought up differently” Laura said. (I soon learnt that the four families were doing a commendable work on the social front, especially education to the poor) I wanted to chat with Jim but he was immersed in a large bath tub with a cigar on the first floor of the office. I was told that it was his “thinking den”.

Laura hoped that this model of living and earning gave all of them a sense of balance. “When you hold expertise then why put it on cheap sale on the basis of daily rates with no challenges on the outcomes – she said. “We live here at a pace we want, enjoy the work we do and complement each other on professional front. I dare say we may not have to look for old people’s home when our children leave us. We will find ways to take care of each other”

I was impressed how business and art of living were blended together – collectively – and leveraging on each other’s expertise like an ecosystem.  The key however was to reach the status of top of the line consultant in the early stage of life, and demonstrate outcomes working with the client not as a vendor but more as a partner. Share risks and ride on the opportunities.

On our way back I told Dr Salim that meeting with the four Canadian’s was inspirational and an eye opener.

On return, I asked one of my real estate friends to look for 5 villas near the Mulshi dam close to Pune. Mulshi is a wonderful place with a sprawling lake. My friend found one 5 villa complex in a weeks’ time.

The challenge was however to get three friends who agree to the Bogor philosophy.  I spoke to many of my old friends – but it was either “too late” or they were not interested. I could thus find the Vilas but not the friends I was looking for

I kept looking for connecting with the other three.

For several years, I am not able to get even one.

And I still continue consulting on the daily rates. My clients want outputs and are not interested in involving me in the outcomes

Message – Plan early and action in time if you want to live a different kind life.

(Cover image sourced from http://www.digitaltrends.com/music/best-songs-friendship/)

SKD – A Procedure for Selective Knowledge Destruction


I woke up in the morning and decided to go to the Park for a walk. It was 5 30 am. As I stepped out, I saw an online display board flashing at the entrance of the Park that showed the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI indicated that the air quality to breathe was at alarming levels and that I should be either staying home or walk with a mask. (see http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/04/08/how-indias-new-air-quality-index-works/)

I decided to go back home.

Newspapers had arrived. I read the headlines. Pretty depressing I thought. Can there be a newspaper that just gives the good news and not the  (heart) breaking news?. I thought of talking about it to my journalist friends.

I turned to the Kitchen to make a bowl of Eggie noodles. I like Eggie as it just takes little more than 2 minutes to prepare. In the busy life on Mumbai, every minute costs and counts.

When I opened the shelf, I did not see any packs of Eggie Noodles. My wife said “Eggie is in the soup as the company violated the limits set on the lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) content (see http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/maggi-noodles-in-soup-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-controversy/article1-1354268.aspx ) No more Eggie noodles in the shop. There will probably be a nationwide ban.

I got ready for the office, picked up a couple of apples for lunch (I believe in healthy food) and walked to my car. Driving to the office in the messy traffic was always a pain of the day. I put on the AC and drove my way through to the parking lot near my office with sun scorching around. I always carry a bottle of water and keep it in the car. I took a few large gulps of water to wet my throat, took the elevators and reached my desk.

My colleague was reading aloud a page from a Cancer magazine

*AMONG A LONG LIST OF OTHER PROBLEMS*, drinking water from plastic bottles left to bake in your car WILL INCREASE YOUR RISK OF GETTING CANCER, although the risk factor is a function of your current level of health, the relative quality of the plastic containing the water (THERE ARE NO SAFE PLASTICS, but some are worse than others), the temperature achieved, the length of time it was in the sun, & whether or not a person consumes water from hot plastic on an ongoing basis, not to mention the quality of the water pumped into the bottle to begin with.

ASIDE from the pthalate exposure, drinking water from hot plastics increases your exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA), a potent hormone disruptor which is known to attack the body IN MYRIAD WAYS, including elevating one’s risk of breast & prostate cancer”

(see http://www.quora.com/Can-drinking-from-plastic-water-bottle-left-in-a-hot-car-cause-cancer )

I was shocked. First of all, I dislike magazines on subjects like Cancer and don’t know why our company does not subscribe to Film fare or stock old issues of Debonair. This piece of information on Cancer due to plastic bottle water was particularly disturbing to me.

During lunch, I asked my peon to cut the apples for me and bring as a “fruit platter”. Just last month, we purchased Zent Ozone Purifier that promised removal of pesticides and chemicals retained on the vegetables and fruits. This Zent Purifier brought a sense of safety to our family.

But one of my friends who had joined lunch had a story to tell – Apparently the ozone based purification technology was not fool proof. The claims made by Zent were rather tall. Research carried out at the University of Maine in the United States reported that there was no guarantee (see http://www.plentymag.com/magazine/claim_check_ozone_infused_wate.php )

As my mouth was gaping with this new information, my friend said in a hush hush tone, Neha, the Actor who is the brand ambassador of this product is withdrawing her contract with Zent. She is worried that she may be sued for false claims!).

I felt cheated and angry and then scared.

I decided to go the Gym on my way back home. Some exercises, especially on the tread mill will be good for my health – I muttered.

Last week, I had purchased a nice Tee shirt, at cheap price and with psychedelic colors on the streets of Bandra. When I changed into this Tee shirt, it caught the eyes of everybody in the Gym.

I was on the tread mill for 30 minutes on a speed of 5.5 kmh and 15 degree incline. When I got to the changing room, one of my buddies said “Boss, you are sweating so much as if standing under the shower.. Hope your Tee shirt is of good quality. These street Tee shirts often contain high levels of formaldehyde (for anti-shrink) and when you sweat formaldehyde gets leached on the skin and can cause skin cancer.” (see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/your-money/11wrinkle.html )

I gave up and decided to junk my jazzy Tee shirt

When I reached home, I felt defeated, frustrated and scared. I wished I was born on some other planet. Every moment of living here on this Earth and particularly in Mumbai was a risk proposition. The increasing strings of knowledge about these risks were looming around me like a spider web. I felt trapped.

The next day was the weekend and I called upon my Professor friend to vent out my fears and frustrations. Professor was very busy as usual. “ I am going to the Hospital” he said. “My day is blocked with patients – Want to come?”

I had no clue on what Professor was up to.

Well, you probably do not know my latest invention. I have come up with a medical procedure called Selective Knowledge Destruction (SKD). In this procedure, we simply “wash out” or “destroy” person’s knowledge about the chosen subject – in this case “environment”.  Once the SKD is performed, the person treated knows NOTHING about that subject. More interestingly, the effect lasts over a year – that means no new knowledge gets transferred to the person in this period. After a year you will need another SKD like putting on another stent. Procedure is very simple and straightforward but requires some training. Its like putting on a saline to the brain with my secret electrolyte.

But why should one go for SKD? I asked (as usual a stupid question)

Oh, easy. It’s the most sought for procedure now. I just launched it one week before and I am booked for the year already and there are requests all over the country to open up franchise units. I may have to give up my teaching job at IIT

The SKD treated person is blissfully unaware of the environmental risks he or she is subjected to. So one can live life normally without any tensions, fears or anxieties. If someone falls sick or dies, you don’t know why – as there is simply no point to know .. And these risks are never fully understood nor actioned upon. Knowing the probable cause is therefore irrelevant or inconsequential. So you can live the life you normally would – like go for the morning walks, eat Eggie noodles to your content, use Zent Ozone Purifier for making your fruits and vegetables healthy. Plus you can keep a plastic bottle water in the car to drink when thirsty and wear cheap Tee shirts because you like them…. Professor went on and on with more examples.

I said – My friend, can you give me an out of the turn appointment for the SKD. I badly need one…. I am looking forward to live a normal life.


Cover image sourced from http://www.wall321.com/Anime/Naruto/destruction_sketches_naruto_shippuden_kunai_manga_lightning_kakashi_hatake_swords_133709