Shashwat Aalingan – A Hug for Sustainability


For past several years I have been struggling to influence the Government, investors, business and people regarding sustainability. But all the efforts made so far have been more or less in vain.

I thought of consulting Lord Vishnu this time. I went to the Dadar beach in Mumbai. It was a full moon night and I walked across the patchy sands, jumping sometimes to avoid the litter.

After a graft of three stents in my heart (I call them as the trident), I now have a kind of instant communication system with Lord Vishnu. These stents apart from maintaining good circulation of blood in my heart, function as a cosmic communication device. So I sent the message to Lord Vishnu using my trident of the stents.

Lord Vishnu appeared in a moment responding to my call. But he came in his Viraat Swaroop that swirled the sea and churned the cover of the clouds. There was a thunder and flashing illumination. His enormous body was radiating blinding my eyes. I got worried (as people should not think that it is a repeat of 26/11) and requested the Lord to change his form to someone human.  Lord Vishnu agreed to my request and took the form of Krishna.

I then stood like Arjuna as in Mahabharata in front of him.


Viraat Swaroop of Lord Vishnu

Lord Vishnu said “Sorry Dr Modak, I had to take this Viraat Swaroop, as while rising from the deepest portion of the oceans where I live, I had to weed through so much of muck, especially the plastic waste, sewage and the sludge – and only way was to assume a Viraat Swaroop and simply ambush. I never realized that the mankind focused only on land based management of pollution and took the oceans for granted. Anyway, what can I do for you this time Dr Modak?”

I explained the Lord about my frustration on the acceptance of sustainability in practice. “There is only a talk” I said.

Lord Vishnu (now Krishna) heard me patiently and gave a divine smile. He said “Dr Modak, you cannot bring in this change alone or all by yourself. You will need everybody to participate. The only way to involve and influence people is to give them a sustainability hug. Remember the use of touch enhances the transfer of spiritual or subtle-energies up to 100%, when compared to a greeting that does not involve touch.”

He continued.

“When you will hug someone following my instructions, you will simply transmit your passion regarding sustainability to the other person. The person you hugged will not only get possessed but will be able to transmit the message of sustainability when he or she will hug someone else. This process will thus be viral and cascade rapidly. As you keep travelling across the word, keep hugging as you meet with people in each country. I estimate that in a year all people on this planet will live sustainabily”

I was really impressed with Lord Vishnu’s hug strategy. I must become a hug-holic I said to myself.

But I had some stupid questions

“My Lord, some cultures don’t accept hugging and if hugged can get seriously offended. And few or hardly anyone travels in the mountains where nomads and tribal live. And can you ever imagine hugging the security guards at the airports?”

Lord Vishnu smiled and said “Don’t worry, I will tell you how to handle these exceptions. For example, tribal already live sustainably and so you don’t need to go to the mountains to hug them. They should be the one to descend the mountain and hug. You don’t need to hug the security guards as they hug you! But we will go step by step”

He opened his arms and invited me for a good hug. “It’s called Shashwat Aalingan (meaning a hug for sustainability)” He said. Then he hugged me and whispered in my ears

“First bow to each other and recognize each other’s presence. This is a desirable step but not essential. Next, open your arms and begin hugging, holding each other for three in-and-out-breaths. With the first breath, become aware that you are present in this very moment and feel happy. With the second breath, become aware that the other person is present in this moment and feel happy as well. With the third breath, become aware that you are here together and you want to do something good for this Earth. You will feel deep gratitude and happiness for the togetherness and taking a joint responsibility on sustainability. Finally, release the other person and bow to each other to show your thanks. I will send you a Gmail (means God’s email) with more detailed instructions”[1]

While he was giving the guidance, I was simply lost in his divine hug. I thought I should just continue and remain in his arms. I also realized that it was He who was managing sustainability of the Planet and Beyond. Seeing me in a Trans, he tapped my head and woke me up. I was disappointed.

While separating, he said

“Now devote the remainder of your life by replacing the usual hand shake with a sustainability hug. Open your arms to new people you meet and embrace them. This deeply transformative practice will change everybody’s life and every person you will hug will appreciate and practice sustainability”

Before assuming his Viraat Swaroop, he cautioned

“Becoming a hug-a-holic is a practice that requires a delicate balance of giving and receiving love. This doesn’t mean that you’re running up to embrace every single person you see on the street. The hugs that come from you are more of a natural effect that comes through a deeper devotion and passion to sustainability. My best wishes Dr Modak”

And then with all the thunder and flashing illumination, Lord Vishnu in his Viraat Swaroop disappeared.

I went to my office in IL&FS. My Secretary Kermeene came to meet me. “Sir, I need your signatures” She said “and Sir do you know I am on vacation from tomorrow for 2 weeks?”.

I said “Oh dear, print the papers ASAP so that I sign up. Enjoy the break Kermeene, You take care” I said this,  got up and gave her a good hug. I followed instructions of Lord Vishnu.

As we parted, I realized the sustainability hug was not all that difficult. Kermeene did not realize (perhaps) the special treatment I had given which she actually reciprocated.

In minutes, Kermeene came to my desk with papers that were printed on both sides. “Sorry Sir, it took little longer as I wanted to use Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) paper this time. I had to locate the right paper pack”

I was shocked to see this change. Normally Kermeene would print on single side and use “ordinary” chlorine bleach paper. After the sustainability hug, her behavior had changed.

So what Lord Vishnu said was right.

While I was signing the papers, Pretty (Oops Preeti!) Mistry, our facility and catering in charge and Kermeene’s good friend passed by. Kermeene stopped her to greet and hugged her saying “long time no see!” Kermeene must have given her a sustainability hug, as within an hour, Preeti came to my desk asking my help to rehaul the food menu towards organic, eliminate use of plastic water bottles in the meetings and asked me how to send the waste food for composting.

While returning from my desk, I saw Preeti was seeing Ramesh Bawa, Managing Director of IL&FS Financial Services (IFIN). Since they knew each other for long, Preeti gave him a friendly hug saying “Sir, hope all is well”.

In minutes, I saw Ramesh Bawa lifting his phone and speaking to one of his senior deputy, Asesh. “Asesh, aren’t you actioning what Dr Modak has been requesting several times – a serious implementation of the Environmental & Social Management Framework (ESPF). Please take this up ASAP – ESPF is not to be looked at as a compliance requirement of the Corporate but a risk management tool to our business. And remember it adds value and builds our brand attracting international investors”.

I thought this was amazing. The cascading effect that Lord Vishnu spoke about was actually happening.

I flew to Delhi next day and was at the Ministry of Environment & Forests – MoEF (and Climate Change). I met A K Mehta, IAS, Joint Secretary, in charge of Pollution Control and (Acting) Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board. When he saw me, he took out his hand for a handshake “Oh Dr Modak, how come here today?” I did not want to waste this opportunity. I stepped ahead and gave Mr. Mehta a sustainability hug. I could sense that he was surprised and a bit awkward. But I managed to hold him for 30 seconds following the three steps. We parted saying “let us catch up some time”

The next day’s edition of DNA carried a news on Page 3. “MoEF relaunches its Eco-Mark label with update and improved implementation mechanism. Relaunch of this eco-label demonstrates MoEF’s commitment to move beyond conventional pollution control and bring in the dimension of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)”

I was very impressed with this announcement.

So Shashwat Aalingan was making the magic and the transformation I was looking for.

I decided to take appointment of Mr. Arvind Kejariwal for the interest of Delhi’s air quality. The appointment is still in the queue.

Anyways, let us get back to the subject of hugging.

Being hugged and touched by parents is important for the emotional well-being and development of children. I remember that when I was small and young, my parents used to hug me regularly and every day. Did this help in transmitting the DNA of my family to me? May be.

I now hug my kids when dropping them or receiving them at the airports. When did you last hug your children? Try giving them Lord Vishnu’s sustainability hug. We want to see that the next generation understands and practices sustainability as not much time is left.

Have you ever hugged a tree when you are on a walk in the park or in a forest early morning? Science has already proven that hugging trees is good for health. According to Amanda Froelich, hugging trees brings in a change benefiting human health by altering vibrational frequency. In a recently published book by author Matthew Silverstone, Blinded by Science, evidence has been given that benefits of tree hugging include reducing severity of mental illnesses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression and the headaches. So go ahead and hug a tree and encourage others to do so for the interest of sustainability.

I spoke about my conversations with Lord Vishnu with my Professor Friend and the sustainability hug. As usual, he was not impressed at all. He said he does not believe a word of what I said.

He then spoke in his characteristic matter of fact tone.

“Hugging a person causes your brain to release serotonin, dopamine and endorphin to trigger reactions of happiness and joy. These secretions negate the worries of mortality by decreasing the levels of stress hormone, by altering the perception of brain by evoking out positive emotions in us. The hug can cause a massive release nueurohormones in our body that we are unknown of. These neurohormonal changes calm our mind[2]. And in this calmness, you discover and believe in sustainability. So what your Lord Vishnu told is something rather basic”

I did not like that the Professor looked at the Shashwata Aalingan as something basic and so trivial.

Then while lighting his Cigar, Professor asked

“By the way, have you come across the Hug Shirt™ – A shirt that makes people send hugs over distance!”

I said “No”.

Professor said

“The Hug Shirt was invented by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz in 2002, the co-founders of CuteCircuit. Embedded in the Hug Shirt™ there are sensors that feel the strength, duration, and location of the touch, the skin warmth and the heartbeat rate of the sender and actuators that recreate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion of the hug to the Hug Shirt™ of the distant loved one. The Hug Shirt™ was awarded as one of the Best Inventions of the Year by Time Magazine in 2006. Do you know that research has shown that People need to be touched at least 70 times a day! You can do this easily with the Hug Shirt. This hug is non-physical and can be “executed” over a distance.

The system is very simple: All you need is a Hug Shirt™ (Bluetooth with sensors and actuators), a Bluetooth enabled smartphone with the Hug Shirt™ App running and on the other side another smartphone and another Hug Shirt™. A Hug Shirt is Rechargeable and washable and is available in Womenswear, Menswear, and Children Childrenswear styles.

I was awed and impressed with this information that was new to me.

I asked “Professor, do you have a plan to get Hug Shirt technology in India?”

Professor got up and closed the door of this office – then turned to me and spoke in a low voice.

“Dr Modak, in fact this is a secret mission assigned to me by the Prime Minister himself. Like you were introduced to the so called Shashwat Aaalingan by Lord Vishnu (I noticed here a smirk on his face), I am developing an algorithm of processing “senses” in combination with nanotech based sensors that will promote the NDA  Government (instead of sustainability).

Our Hug Shirts will communicate to the “other party” NDA’s good governance. This will make the “other party” believe that NDA is the only party to support and vote in the next election. NDA will provide all opposition party workers free Hug Shirts. A undercover team of NDA will give electronic hugs to these workers and lure them to the NDA team. Of course this will be done on select basis and in a guarded manner. The process of convincing will however become viral. We are currently in a pilot stage and results so far have been pretty good.”

I was simply shocked with this deep strategy.

“I am sorry I cannot reveal you any further information” Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

And then he ended the conversation with a thick voice

“What is sustainability after all? Having a political ruling that is sensible & stable over years is what counts. And this is what this country needs. We don’t need “your kind” of sustainability”

I gave a shashwat aalingan to the Professor (without him realizing!) and quietly left.

[1] — based on Thich Nhat Hanh in Chanting from the Heart

[2] See Dr. Fahad Basheer, Author of “The Science of Emotions”



Driving (me) Crazy


Siddhu Driver

We have been living over two generations in the great city of Mumbai. In this span of nearly 80 years, we have had several individuals as a support to our living and been part of our family. This included a barber who used to show up every morning for 30 years and shave for my father (in fact he did my first shave – leaving some bruises behind as a memory). And there was an Aya (maid) who looked after me for 25 years like my second mother. I always miss Tanubai (her name).

In this “ecosystem”, there were car drivers who worked with my father for years. These drivers did not just drive our cars but functioned like “butlers” and did anything and everything for us. We looked after them well, respected them (never treated them like servants – a term I hate to use) and supported their families. The young generation of today will probably not understand the warmth and relationships, we enjoyed as an extended family. Life is so different today.

I am writing this post about my driver Siddhu Kolekar who worked with me for 10 years. Through this narration, my attempt is to reflect a few sensitivities laced with some humor in the form anecdotes.  Pardon me as there are no musings on sustainability in this post!

On a Sunday morning my doorbell rang. When I opened the door I saw a short, a bit stocky and a dark skinned man grinning at me with a paan in this mouth. He almost looked like a chimpanzee.

Saheb, I was told that you are looking for a driver” He said

I was indeed looking for a new driver at that time as my earlier driver had retired. But I was surprised how this chimpanzee found out about my search?

The man simply got in (almost pushing me) and took a seat on the sofa. He looked around the drawing room to “measure” me up. He took out his (dirty) handkerchief and wiped sweat on this forehead

“I can start working for you from tomorrow” He said in a matter of fact tone.

I was both amused and irritated.

“Who are you Mr.…?” I asked in not so friendly a tone.

“I am Siddhanath – but you can call me Siddhu”

Siddhu looked an experienced person – must be nearly 50 years of age I guessed.

“Where did you work before” I asked

“Well, my first job was with the Chief Minister of the Government of Maharashtra – Shri Vasantrao Naik. That was for 10 years. Then I worked for more than 10 years with Mr. Soman, Inspector General of Police of Maharashtra. You should know these people – both good.”

He saw my gaping face and continued

“Someone told me that you are looking for a new driver. Many told me that you are good man. So I have decided to work with you”

[So I was going to be the third important and fortunate boss of Siddhu!)

I tried to explain to him that he cannot assume that I have selected or appointed him. I am looking for options and he could well be one of them.

But Siddhu did not listen and gave me an impression that he did not understand my point of view.

“I will come tomorrow morning at 8 am. You have Maruti Esteem right. I know this car very well” He said while getting up from the sofa. While opening the door, he turned around and said “I decided my job with you so now you decide my salary – I leave to you”

The Man left.

The next day morning he appeared, a bit better dressed, and sharp at 8 am asking for the car keys.

I accepted him. I had probably no choice – as the Man had already decided.

Since then Siddhu came to work for me every day at 8 am sharp for the next 10 years.

The first thing I had to do was to get a strong and pungent air spray in the car so as to “neutralize” the Siddhu’s body odor. He was a Shepard by birth – and “smelt” of the sheep and the soil.  The air spray used to work for the day.

Siddhu was a decent driver and knew how to take care of my car. He could negotiate well with the car mechanics and speak to them like an automobile engineer with an authority and experience. He had a number of stories to tell about his driving skills – especially the story of the award – a silver badge – he received from Larsen & Toubro to bring down one of their massive 12 wheeler from the hills in Chambal Valley – a valley that was rampaged by the dacoits.

Siddhu had an uncanny skill of attracting women. Whenever I used to go for meetings and return to the car, I would see him chatting with women – that included waste-pickers, vegetable sellers and of that kind. He used to be sitting like a Krishna in between.

But there were many interesting episodes with this chimpanzee that I must narrate to you.

When I used to go to my office in IL&FS, security guards at the Gate would stand by and salute me. I never liked this saluting practice and so I told Siddhu to tell them to stop this nonsense. Siddhu laughed at me and said “Saheb, Do you think they are saluting you? They are saluting me – as they come from my village. I am like their Mama (uncle)”. I was simply speechless.

I realized later that Siddhu’s village must be really big or some important place. I remember that once he jumped the traffic signal near Worli in Mumbai and we were promptly stopped by the Traffic Police. The policeman took his driving license and asked him to appear in the court next day and pay fine. I was quite upset and told Siddhu that firstly he should have not jumped the signal and secondly he must report to the Court, apologize and pay the fine, the very next day.

Siddhu said “No worries Saheb. A policeman with a handlebar mustache will come to your house at night and return my driving license. All the driving licenses collected in the Central part of Mumbai go to him at night. This man is from my village and once he sees my license – he will come to your house and return the license” I was shocked with his confidence

And sure it happened as predicted. At night around 10 pm, a policeman with handlebar mustache appeared at my door step. While handing over the license, he said “Saheb, some mistake. Please give this to Mama when he comes tomorrow. Convey my regards”

Siddhu once told me that he has been blessed by a sage that he will not die in a car accident. It’s good for you to know he said. I however told him to re-check with the Sage whether his blessings were for the driver or man with the wheel or whether they were also applicable to someone sitting behind like me! He laughed. “I will check” he said.

The laughter part reminds me of another incident. I had taken out my good friends Richard Ackermann and Hari Sankaran for a dinner at Copper Chimney in Bandra in Mumbai. I was dropping them back at the Carter Road where Hari lived and then to Taj Lands End where Richard was staying. Richard was at that time Sector Director of Environment at the World Bank and Hari was Joint Managing Director of IL&FS. The conversations in the car were extremely intellectual laced by Richard’s sense of sophisticated humor that would make all of us laugh. Whenever we would do so, driver Siddhu would also laugh. I was surprised and also irritated to see him laughing. “How come this guy laughs when he does not know even a sentence in English?”

When we were returning home, I could not resist asking him – why were you laughing Siddhu? I am sure you understood nothing what Richard was saying”. Siddhu replied “Saheb, doesn’t it look bad if three in the car laugh and the forth doesn’t? Bad manners isn’t it? So I joined you all in laughing.” I didn’t know what to say. Laugh or cry!!

I used to pay Siddhu his salary in cash every month as he did not have a bank account. Once day while counting the notes, he told me” Saheb, don’t take me wrong, but I just wanted to tell you that I am much richer than you are. I have 4 acres of fertile land, four deep wells, 30 sheep, 4 cows and 2 bulls. And where I live has the sun, wind and the oxygen” He was absolutely right I thought, especially in the latter, where Mumbai always had overcast sky, poor “ventilation” and more of carbon monoxide than the oxygen. “Then why do you work for me Siddhu?” I asked. He was about to finish his counting of the notes and so took a pause and said “Saheb, I have everything I said but no cash. And I am here just for that”. Indeed, many from rural areas of Maharashtra are in Mumbai because of the hard cash this “sin city” gives.

Siddhu was quite popular across my office colleagues and friends as he used to often give everybody his free advice of “wisdom in practice”. One day, Santosh Shidhaye, one of my colleagues in IL&FS passed me a cassette of Marathi loksangeet (folk songs). He said that one of the singer’s voice in the cassette resembled Siddhu’s voice. I left the cassette in the pouch of the car and forgot about it.

One day, while on the Western Express highway, I remembered what Santosh said. I asked Siddhu to take the cassette from the pouch and play. After a few songs, which were all good, there came a song about a Shepard. Moment this song started, Siddhu got visibly excited and pulled the car to the side of the Express highway, rather abruptly. I thought we just missed a fatal accident. “What are you up to Siddhu I almost shouted?

Siddhu turned back to me and said in a chocked voice “Saheb, this is my song. I recorded this at the HMV (His Masters Voice) studio in Marine Lines, some 10 years ago. They never gave me the cassette but I get every year a money order of 25 Rs. This was a great surprise to me. I checked the inside cover of the cassette and it did have a name of the singer “Siddhanath Kolekar and Party”. So, Siddhu was an accomplished singer.

Siddhu however continued to speak – now recalling his memories. “Saheb, I not only sang but wrote this song. This song is based on a folk tale about a Shepard”.

I got curious and asked Siddhu to explain.

“Well the song tells a story about a railway tunnel project in the ghats (mountains) during the British times.  A British engineer was trying to figure out the right alignment of the tunnel that would connect both sides at least excavation/blasting and generation of spoils. He was not able to come up with a good solution. Locals in the area told him that he must speak to the old Shepard who grazes sheep on the mountain. Only he will know – most people said. The British engineer met the Shepard and learned from him how to arrive at the best tunnel route.

The tunnel got built and gave the best result. The British engineer was now worried that the credit will also go to the Shepard. He therefore arrested him and cut off his hands so that he can no more walk in the mountains and mend the sheep. This was done in all possible brutality.

On the day of inauguration, the train left the station from the city with an engine whistling and smoking proudly and catching a good speed to reach the tunnel. As the engine reached the beginning of the tunnel it suddenly stopped. Despite all efforts from the engine driver and the mechanic, the engine would not move. It looked like the engine was in the tears remembering the tragedy of the Shepard.  It did not want to cross the tunnel of injustice!  The song ended with this touching tale where someone not human cared for the poor human being.

“So you wrote this Song Siddhu, a story to remember and ponder” – I exclaimed. Then in a voice that was still chocked Siddhu said “Saheb, in this world and in this city, I see many like the British engineer and many like the Shepard – people innocent and compromised”. We did not speak a word in rest of the journey.

One day while accepting his monthly salary, Siddhu declared that now is the time to quit. When asked he reminded me that he had told me when he joined that he will leave me on his own – no questions to be asked. “I want to go to my village and get back to farming” he said.

I let him go as he was clear and firm.



Farewell day! (me standing back on the right)

Many told me later that Siddhu had decided to quit as his eyesight was getting worse due to a cataract. He used to have difficulties in driving me at night especially on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. So he apparently left for my safety – knowing that the Sage whom he had met had assured him of his safety but not of the person sitting in the rear seat!

I have not seen Siddhu again.



Wastewater Treatment Plants that Speak


Pollution is to be prevented in the first place but even after prevention, pollution is often not fully eliminated. Pollution needs to be adequately treated before discharge so that the environment is not adversely affected.

Take the case of managing wastewater. Industries generate wastewater from manufacturing processes, from utilities (boiler operations and cooling water discharges) and from sanitary use. One can reduce the wastewater generated by modifying the manufacturing process (e.g. using “dry” operations instead of “wet”) or by recycling wastewater back in the process, Wastewater after some treatment could also be used for washing or low grade operations  All these efforts lead to wastewater flow and load reduction. The wastewater that is left over needs to be treated as an “end of the pipe measure” so that the stipulated wastewater standards are met. These standards are listed  specific to pollutant concentrations by the regulator (such as Pollution Control Board) with a belief that if the standards are met then the receiving environment will stay protected.

It is not surprising therefore that we see a number of wastewater treatment plants built and operated by individual industries and by industry associations as common effluent treatment plants (CETPs), a treatment facility shared by industries in a cluster. These treatment plants are inspected by the officers of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) and samples of the treated wastewater are taken and tested in the laboratories to ensure that the plants are in compliance. The industries where non-compliance is found, actions are taken such as warnings (show cause notices). In cases of persistent non-compliance, closure notices are issued or fines are levied

I have a problem in believing or trusting the above “system” of monitoring & enforcement. Firstly, the wastewater treatment plants are seldom operated by trained or certified operators. In India, we don’t have a requirement of certification so – “anybody” can operate a wastewater treatment plant. I am always intrigued by the fact that while industries do spend considerable capital expenses in building wastewater treatment plants, they simply ignore the plant operations and do not get skilled people to operate, or pay them well and provide them a career progression.

Can you think of an operator getting a raise in salary because he operated the wastewater treatment plant in 24×7 compliance? How about an operator who could reduce the specific energy consumption (KJ/m3) of the wastewater  treatment plant while remaining in compliance. This operator should be felicitated and paid a bonus proportional to the energy bill saved! This does not happen.

While satisfactory operation of the wastewater treatment plant is an issue, the other problem is relatively low experience of the staff of the PCB in plant inspection and sampling. Most of the times, the staff (that is typically a field officer) is not well trained on how to walk through, inspect and assess the plant performance. The officer is sometimes not familiar with the treatment process or the equipment or does not hold a prior experience that has given him an eagle’s eye of inspection. So in most instances, the task of inspection and monitoring gets poorly performed.

The brunt of non-compliance is then received by the environment despite investments made, staff deployed and numerous monitoring reports prepared!

I spoke about my frustration to Professor Friend. He was in a hurry and was stepping out of his secret research laboratory (This lab was set up in the basement of Income Tax office in Mumbai, location not known to most people. Professor had a conviction that here he will get peace of mind to work on innovations of 21st century as very few people generally turn out to the office of the Income Tax!)

When he heard me, he said “Dr Modak, you have come to me at the right time. I have just completed a pilot project on wastewater treatment plant that speaks. Let us drive to one such pilot and you will see that all your concerns regarding treatment plan operations and inspection are resolved” He said this in a triumphant voice.

“Treatment Plants that can speak?” Are you alright Professor?” I exclaimed

In the next one hour, I drove with Professor to an inconspicuous mid-size activated sludge wastewater treatment plant (capacity 2 MLD) near Thane Belapur industrial area. As soon as we entered the gate, the gate greeted us saying “Welcome”. I was shocked to be welcomed by someone not “living” and in a machine voice. Professor smiled and said that he had activated the Speakoscope and now onwards I was going to hear “everybody” at the treatment plan who mattered.

We reached a chamber that had a bar screen with oil & grease trap. Professor saw that the chamber was not well operated and cleaned. A lot of oil could be seen floating and getting across to the next treatment unit i.e. the primary sedimentation tank. Professor asked the OG (“oil & grease trap”) – “how do you feel?” OG said “Terrible, I feel real sloppy. I wish I was given better attention. All I can do right now is skimming but that’s really not effective as there is lot of emulsification. Please tell Manjunath (name of the operator) and his boss to consider using enzymes! Apply them at my friend PST (Primary Sedimentation Tank) downstream. This will reduce the maddening use of chemicals and knock off floating oil and grease”

I was shocked to listen to this experienced and intelligent speech. “How does this oil & grease trap know about advanced use of biotechnology (enzymes)?” And I was still not able to accept the “fact” that the oil & grease trap was actually speaking.

Professor smiled and said that this was essentially a combined application of Human Computer Interface (HCI), biomimicry and artificial intelligence. The main role was however played by Google-Intel microchips. These chips allow the humanoid of each treatment unit to surf on the web for seeking knowledge, upload data and download literature. He said that all treatment units in this plant are fitted with such special chips. I realized that the oil & grease unit (OG) had just smsed Professor the performance data of last 24 hours. Professor was generating infographics out of this data on his iPhone by plotting flow against incoming and outgoing oil and grease concentration. “Hmm” He said to himself.

We moved to the PST.  The PST had lot to say – He said he is not doing well in the removal of suspended solids. He talked about his weir plate –“It is so uneven, tilted and unnoticed. Manjunath keeps loading higher concentrations of alum and lime in despair and this is really not helping much. In fact it is increasing the sludge volumes (swelling effect) and the carryover of high concentrations of suspended solids, oil and grease continues to my friend AT (Aeration Tank) downstream. If we follow OG’s advice on using enzymes with me then we will get benefit of higher removal of both suspended solids and the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)”

I thought that PST was right. Sometimes, basics like uniform level of the weir plate are not looked into.

PST made other points such as the motor is not regularly serviced and overload alarm does not work.

We moved to the Aeration Tank (AT). AT had four 50 HP floating aerators. When one of the Floating Aerators (FA) saw the Professor, he wobbled a bit and skirted towards the wall and yelled “Hey Professor, long time no see!” Of course only we heard this as we had the Speakophones. When Professor asked FA his point of view, the FA said that he spins generally in the day time, and especially runs in full speed with lot of foaming around when staff from PCB visits. Nights are cool however as no electricity is supplied. “I am quite happy as all of us get a good night sleep. But sometimes one of us is made to spin – just in case” The FA almost winked (i.e. flipped his blade a bit).

I was shocked. Professor was able to “extract” real information on what was happening at the wastewater treatment plant by simply talking to the treatment units. What an intelligent inspection and monitoring technology I thought.

We spoke to the Final Sedimentation Tank (FST), gathered information on the sludge bulking problem and then reached the Final Chamber (FC) of wastewater discharge.

We found FC not very talkative and was kind of evading Professors questions. When Professor asked about the status on meeting with the standards i.e. compliance, FC changed the subject and started talking about climate change (Now a days I have been noticing that if you want to change the topic then most people start talking about climate change – so funny).

“That’s not relevant FC. Come to the point of compliance” Professor growled.

FC said that he cannot speak further as he has got a sour throat.

When we exited the plant and reached my car, I could see that the Professor was visibly upset.

To cheer him up, I told him how impressed I was with his 21st century innovation and how this invention will open up new era of wastewater treatment plant operations, inspections and compliance etc. But Professor was silent. He finally said

“Dr Modak, this is the problem. I have been successful with treatment units like OG, PST, AT, FA and FST, but when it comes to FC, my algorithms and Google-Intel microchips don’t seem to work. Each time I ask FC on his assessment of compliance (as this is the last unit), there is never a true or candid response. Most of the times, FC says that compliance is not a major issue – and it is probabilistic. He often adds that one must keep patience and stay a bit philosophical. And I get really raged”

I sympathized with Professors situation. I also understood why Professors phenomenal invention did not reach the attention of the industries and regulators. (Will it ever?)

I dropped Professor at the office of the Income Tax as he wanted to continue his research.




Saying NO to NOCIL


It was 1990. I was an Associate Professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering (CESE) at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay.

I received a call from Mr. S K Patil, Member Secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). “Dr Modak, The Honorable High Court of Mumbai is appointing an Expert Committee to decide on the Environmental Clearance of the proposed Modernization and Expansion of M/s National Organic Chemicals & Industries Ltd (NOCIL). I would like to request you to join this Committee. The Committee will be headed by Dr R K Garg, Director of Chemical Engineering Department of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC)”

Dr R K Garg was a well-known authority in the field of Hazard Assessment. He had earlier chaired the Committee (more known as the “Garg Committee”) on Assessment of Hazardous Industries in the Thane-Belapur area outskirts of Mumbai. The Garg Committee had come up with several major observations and recommendations to the MPCB. Working with Dr Garg was going to be a great honor, learning and experience. I readily accepted the invitation.

NOCIL was a Mafatlal Group’s flagship company. It was the largest rubber chemicals manufacturer in India. But the plant was nearly 30 years old and badly needed modernization for its viability.  The Team at NOCIL was one of the best in the chemical industry led by M S Patwardhan and President K Dharam. Dharam was a smart – a great manager and an engineer of details. Prof M M Sharma, internationally well-known chemical engineer and Director of the University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT) was NOCIL’s advisor on technologies. Dr Deepak Kantawala, a doyen in industrial pollution control was the Environmental Consultant. So our “battle” with NOCIL was not going to be easy.

Our Committee members consisted Prof S B Chandalia of UDCT, Mr. M S Mirashi of the Factory’s Inspectorate of the Government of Maharashtra, P K Ghosh of Indian Rare Earth (IRE) – close associate of Dr Garg, Representatives of Department of Explosives, Department of Industries and Department of Environment with Dr S R Choudhari of MPCB as the Member Secretary.

I recall we all met on the 9th Floor of “Benhur” at the office of IRE in Marine Lines. Dr Garg gave all of us a briefing and we were provided documentation on NOCIL’s application for Environmental Clearance as well as objections/protests made. Dr Garg then allocated roles and responsibilities and we decided to meet every Sunday at Benhur to examine the case and meet key stakeholders that included some of the major environmental NGOs who had objected to the Modernization & Expansion (M&E) of NOCIL. We met over six months to submit our final report to the Honorable High Court.

The case of M&E of NOCIL was well made, making argument that this upgradation will lead to export of chemicals and help boost the Indian chemical industry. Importantly, the pollution load to environment (both air emissions and effluents) was to remain same because the technologies to be deployed were going to be far superior, backed by Shell International. Further, the M&E would lead to the generation of  new jobs creating a positive social impact. The company had impeccable record on Health, Environment & Safety (HSE) with several initiatives taken “beyond compliance”.

The project proposal was however controversial. M&E of NOCIL was going to lead to expansion of several industries in the Thane-Belapur industrial area – something that was going to be hard to control. Some voiced that this was a kind of hidden agenda of the Mafatlals, backed by the Chief Minister Sharad Pawar. The M&E required closer examination in this perspective and a more rigorous assessment was needed of cumulative impacts on regional basis and assess potential hazards or risks. (Note that here we are discussing a case of 1990 when there was no National EIA Notification in place and “cumulative thinking” of impacts/risks was simply unheard of and never applied in practice. Our work was therefore going to be path breaking to some extent)

In those days, NOCIL was worth Rs 482-crores.The clearance of its naphtha cracker expansion was crucial for NOCIL’s survival. At that time, IPCL was expanding its Vadodara cracker and building another One at Nagothane in Maharashtra. And  Ambanis’ Reliance Industries, Vijay Mallya’s UB Group, Rama Prasad Goenka’s RPG group and the Gas Authority of India Ltd, among others, were setting up gas and naphtha crackers. All of them were targeting to have an ethylene capacity of 3,00,000 tonnes a year or more, and could take advantage of economies of scale. So NOCIL, with its far smaller and therefore uneconomical plant operations, would be simply pushed out of the market.

With the increase in the capacity of its naphtha cracker, NOCIL’s ethylene production would quadruple from the current 75,000 tonnes to 3,00,000 tonnes. NOCIL had advantage of its relationship with Royal Dutch Shell Corporation, the multinational petrochemical giant. Shell’s participation in the company’s rights issue was expected to cover the entire Rs 400-crore foreign exchange component in the Rs 1,800-crore plan.

Mafatlal’s Polyethylene India Ltd.’s (PIL) expansion was also closely dovetailed with NOCIL’s. PIL intended to raise its HDPE capacity from 50,000 tonnes a year to 1,50,000 tonnes. To do this, it needed 1,50,000 tonnes of ethylene from NOCIL’s expanded capacity of 3,00,000 tonnes. PIL also had a series of other expansion plans-to manufacture a whole range of polymers used in thermoplastics and rubber and to produce 20,000 tonnes of aniline, a raw material for rubber chemicals. So M&E at NOCIL was like waking up of a monster.

Approached by various United Nations fora and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Atomic Energy asked the BARC to conduct a risk assessment study for the Thane-Belapur Industrial Area (TBIA) in 1989. Under this Inter Agency Project (IAP) the BARC carried out ambient air quality monitoring studies for 3 years. The results showed, amongst other pollutants, high concentration of non-methane hydrocarbon concentrations exceeding the limits stated by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The region was found to be already in a severe pollution stress due to both industrial and traffic emissions. One could not therefore limit the environmental and risk assessment only to NOCIL and a cumulative consideration mattered.

The first step was to make a visit to NOCIL’s plant in Thane-Belapur. When we visited the plant, we were received by K Dharam and his top technical team. The idea was to tour the plant, listen to the presentation of the Company on M&E, its rationale and assess the existing HSE management system.

I learnt a lot from Dr Garg on how to conduct such meetings.  He was sharp on the dots, asking questions that sometimes put Dharam’s Team in difficult situations. I recall he even refused to lunch at NOCIL’s premises – although I was looking forward to!

The tour ended at NOCIL’s tank farm that had a large storage of Butadiene. Prof Chandalia, me and P K Ghosh had the task of risk assessment of NOCIL’s tank farm, considering “base line” and situation after M&E. I was particularly asked to do hazard assessment considering various scenarios (e.g. leaks with dense gas dispersion, BLEVES etc.) and importantly model the “domino effect” to check possible chain of blasts at the neighboring tank farms. Large gas storage at the Maharashtra Gas Cracker Complex (MGCC) was one such worry.

I asked Dharam how far is Vashi from the Butadiene tank. “9 kms” he answered. Prof Chandalia and I opened the map and we could see a direct distance of only 5 km and not 9 kms. When questioned, Dharam smiled and answered – 9 kms is the distance between the tank farm and Vashi by road. When I said that the Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE) does not travel by road, he laughed and said that both of us were actually right – but in different perspectives! Such was the battle between us and NOCIL.

Each meeting on Sunday at Benhur was a learning experience. Since I was working on risk assessment, Dr Garg organized for me, copies of the famous Purple Volumes developed by the TNO, Netherlands. I had to give an undertaking of non-disclosure. We were perhaps one of the very few in India who got access to this literature.

I had to do several calculations by hand and double check the results. I recall that I submitted my calculations to P K Ghosh and Dr Garg on the exceedance of Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) in the evening. When I reached home at night, I felt that I probably made some mistake in reading values from the risk curves. I remember I took a taxi at 1 am at night, reached my office at CESE, IIT and rechecked the computations till 3 am. I returned home only at 5 am when I was convinced that the calculations were correct.

(Later, TNO came up with software packages EFFECTS and RISKCURVES based on the Purple Volumes. I and my student Juzer Dhoondia, developed a computer package called MinRisk for on and off-site minimization of risk using Dow’s Fire & Explosion Index, Fatal Accident Rates (FAR), Most Probable Property Damage (MPPD) and Monds Toxicity Index.)

During the period of our assessment, I used to receive strange calls at home saying “Hello Dr Modak, you travel to IIT by train – don’t you? And hope you are aware that accidents do happen when travelling on train”. Initially, I used to get disturbed and worried but later I learnt to ignore such phone calls as I had a conviction that I was not destined to die in a train mishap!

There were rumors that some of the Garg Committee members have been bought out! We used to wonder who amongst us has been bought and only at the end of the journey I realized that this was simply not true and all members functioned with full independence and objectivity that the assessment deserved.

The last meeting of the Committee was held in Mantralaya in the anti-chamber room of the Chief Minister (CM) Pawar. Our final recommendation to the Honorable High Court was to say NO to NOCIL. As we were doing final reading of the draft and putting the various attachments, the door to CM’s room opened and Mr. Pawar walked in. I realized for the first time how imposing was his body frame and personality. He asked “who are the Maharashtrians in this Committee?” When some of us raised hands like school boys in the class, he growled “Don’t you feel ashamed to say NO to this very important project? If we say NO, do you realize that this company will shut down as unviable and the new project will move to Gujarat? Aren’t you not here to protect the interest of the State of Maharashtra? Shame on you”. There was a stone silence in the room.

But we stuck to our recommendation.We said NO to NOCIL’s proposal on Modernization and Expansion.



The World of the Banks


I started working with the World Bank (WB) as a short term consultant in 1989. My work as a consultant with Asian Development Bank (ADB) began in 1993. So past nearly 25 years I have been associated with these two Development Financing Institutions (DFIs) as a consultant. In some sense I have been an “insider” but really not part of their “system”. Some envy this position.

In this long period of engagement, I worked in India as well as in several countries of Asia and African regions. I had an opportunity to be with some of the outstanding staff of these institutions, consultants and the clients. And I really cherish this experience. This was a great learning to me.

In some of the Bank assignments, my job was to help prepare the projects, assist in application of safeguards, participate in the supervision missions, build client capacities or prepare Implementation Completion Reports (ICR).  ICRs were eye-openers and I never missed the opportunity.

Most of the times, I used to be involved in the dialogue with the Central Ministries (like MoEF) or the State Governments/Departments (or the Pollution Control Boards) and Intermediary Financing Institutions (like IDBI/ICICI in India). These interactions really helped to understand the “puzzle” – and gave me a good insight of the “dynamics”

Amongst the grueling missions that we all had to go through, there were occasions of fun and laughter – and of course the situations of frustrations! Evening dinners during some of the missions used to get philosophical sometimes – questioning the very paradigm of “development” and the “role” of the DFIs. With the changing times, priorities and economies, we now wonder whether these Banks have any worthwhile role left to play. Today, these institutions look redundant.  No wonder you see emergence of new players like the New Development Bank or Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

General impression of the clients (i.e. the Governments in most cases) was that these Banks are extremely bureaucratic when it comes to procurement process and compliance with environmental and social safeguards. In specific, clients used to be really weary of the requirement of public consultation and disclosure. Some felt that Banks are doing some kind of “arm twisting” before doling out the moneys and influencing (or interfering?) the policies of the Government. To be fair however I feel that Banks often added a value to the project – of course barring a few exceptions.

I remember a meeting I did with State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) of China in Beijing in the ninety’s. I was stressing the need of stepping up the process of public participation in decision making. The Chief of SEPA smiled and said – “You (i.e. Bank) are supporting less than 2% of China’s infrastructure investments and do you expect us to “comply” with your advice at such a meager financial contribution? By the way, people who make decisions here are all elected from the provinces and so there is no need to go back and ask or involve people. People elected know the best and will protect the interest of people they represent”. Today China is still struggling on how to implement an effective public consultation process (although a lot is written on paper).

Reactions from the Government of India were no different. When we used to go as a Bank team to MoEF, the concerned Additional and Joint Secretaries used to ask me to stay in the room for a while after the meeting with Bank was over. With me alone in the room, they used to then air their reservations/concerns on Bank’s requirements or impositions and ask me to “mediate”. My job was then to find an “amicable” solution.

Governments, in general, used to be interested to basically pick up as much free or cheap money available (like IDA) from these Banks. Compliance and reporting to the Bank requirements was to essentially meet the requirements on paper. The ICRs often revealed  poor sustainability of the projects that were Bank-financed or the institutional capacities that were built. This was mainly because there was no real ownership of the Governments. Often the projects were “Bank-driven”

I remember meeting Director General (DG) of Department of Environment of one of the neighboring countries. I was explaining the need to introduce market based instruments apart from enforcement of the environmental regulations. I was in DGs room with a Joint Director (JD) who was my good friend. The DG was watching cricket match on a TV that was placed in his room while I was speaking. I was offering Bank’s technical assistance. I realized that DG was hardly listening to my “pitch”. I whispered to the JD that there is no point for me to continue as DG is quite distracted and is not listening. The JD smiled and said “No he is actually listening to what you are speaking. If he does not like, he generally asks me to increase the volume of the TV. Since he hasn’t told me to do so yet, this means that he likes you!”

He then spoke to the DG “Sir, you may like to visit countries where market based instruments are used. Dr Modak- can this visit be sponsored in the Bank project?” The DG switched off the TV and started listening to me more attentively now. Indeed, going to “places” for “training” and attending “policy roundtables” has been one of the greatest interests of most borrowing institutions. Task Managers of the Bank are always hounded by the project directors and administrators for such “capacity building”.

Despite these limitations, we must accept that these DFIs have influenced the environmental governance and environmental infrastructure of most of the developing countries today. If we take example of industrial pollution management in India, we see Bank footprints on programs such as Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP), loans extended from IDBI and ICICI to industries on Pollution Prevention and Modernization of laboratories at key State Pollution Control Boards for better monitoring and enforcement. There are now only reminisces as a lot of water has flown under the bridge and the concerned staff has retired.

I encountered in this projects however some hilarious situations. I recall visiting one of the State Pollution Control Boards during ICR that had received Bank assistance. We were checking deployment of office fit-outs, in specific the air conditioners (ACs). We visited all the rooms where ACs were installed but couldn’t locate one. After some thought, the Senior Environmental Engineer said, :Oh Yes, we found that we had one AC in excess but since you had stipulated that it must be located in the “office”, we installed it in one of our executive toilets. Come and I will show you”

On industrial pollution, Bank had supported Government of India two lines of credit – Industrial Pollution Control (IPC) and Industrial Pollution Prevention (IPP). At a location in Gujarat, IPC subsidized a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and under IPP, a water use reduction and recycling project was financed at an industry that contributed major effluent load to this CETP. This reduction in the effluent load (that was good) led to major negative impact on the revenue stream of the CETP making the capital investments made earlier not viable!

In IPC, Bank financed innovative projects that were relevant and could be potentially replicated on demonstration. Sixty percent of the investments were provided as grants. One of the projects financed under this scheme was manufacturing of bio-pesticides. Idea was to promote bio-pesticides to alleviate the problem of contamination by chemical pesticides and reduce the disease burden. When I visited the bio-pesticide plant during ICR, the management showed me impressive balance sheet of financial performance. On further discussions, I understood that almost 100% of the production was exported to the EU at a high price point. There was no demand for bio-pesticides in the local market due to lack of promotion and incentives. So in some sense, Bank financing led to protection of soils in the EU rather than in India!

Today we see that both WB and ADB have kind of entangled their investment/assistance operations in the maze of environmental and social safeguards. These safeguards have been continuously updated and evolved and in the process have expanded in scope and expectations. This has happened partly due to the legacy and partly due to an attempt to satisfy all the stakeholders. The “battle” between the Task Managers (who are keen to disburse) and the Environmental & Social Champions of the Safeguards units (who do not want to do any harm) is getting worse – with kind of polarization often leading either to delays or compromise. The project quality is therefore suffering at entry level and affecting the “development effectiveness”. I do see a lot of fatigue in the Bank teams today with less enthusiasm that earlier used to be. Overall, the staff quality has declined over time with attrition of good staff.

You do see now a difference. Twenty years ago, when we used to visit senior officers of Department of Economic Affairs in Delhi as the Bank team, we were ushered to the cabins immediately. Today, the teams have to wait. Sometimes meetings are cancelled or postponed due to other important matters! Clearly, the “World of the Banks” is changing.

Cover image sourced from







Who do you want to be?


For the past few years I have been organizing a Career Counseling event called “Disha” (means “direction or guidance” in Sanskrit) for the interest of students and young entrepreneurs. Visit Disha for more details.

I was very keen to have my Professor friend to speak at the Disha event but he was simply not available.  Finally, due to my persistent coaxing, he agreed to join.

In Disha, we do an interactive session where we discuss with the students what they want to be. I thought moderation of this session by the Professor will make a big difference

When we got into the auditorium, the hall was already packed with students. I went to the dais and introduced the Professor. His bio-data was 10 pages long and I faced difficulty to condense it in 2 minutes. But the students looked impressed.

Professor thanked me for the invitation. He spoke a few words on how important it is to decide what you want to be in the early phase of life. He then proposed that the session should be run in an interactive manner.   All agreed.

He asked the girl in the fourth row wearing spectacles “So what do you want to be”. The girl stood up and said “I want to be like Wangari Maathai or like Vandada Shiva or Kate Stohr or Safia Minney. I am really inspired with the great humanitarian work they have done and shown leadership”


Wangari Maathai


Vandana Shiva


Kate Stohr


Safia Minney

Professor took a deep puff from his cigar and said “That’s not the right choice. All these women have done is essentially a PR work, have sought publicity with no measurable impact and have in fact created obstacles in the development pathways. I suggest you rethink and dream of becoming like Kiran Shaw Muzumdar or Naina Lal Kidwai who are shining examples of women guiding India’s business – with (apparent?) interest in the sustainability e.g. application of biotechnology or sustainable finance”

I had reservations on what Professor said. So I pointed out that Wangari Maathai, was a woman of many firsts: not only she was the first African woman and first environmentalist to bring home a Nobel Peace Prize but being the frontwoman of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. Vandana Shiva has always been an outspoken campaigner for protecting seed biodiversity against biotech-profiteering and genetic engineering. Her grassroots approach has helped to redefine food security and the green revolution as a movement that empowers local food growers, rather than big agribusiness. She is the founder of Navdanya, a NGO based in Dehradun, India that promotes organic farming and seed-saving. Kate Stohr worked hard to provide disaster relief and reconstruction services during the Hurricane Katrina and Southeast Asian tsunami crises. In 2005, her organization AFH won the TED Prize which allowed them to develop “The Open Architecture Network”, a unique open source platform for sharing sustainable and humanitarian design solutions. Safia Minney is as one of the world’s foremost social entrepreneurs, establishing World Fair Trade Day (observed every second Saturday of May).Her  work strives to change the fashion business by addressing integral issues of fair wages, gender equity, transparency, accountability, capacity building, improved working conditions and environmentally sound practices. These women are examples of careers to follow

Professor did not like my intervention.

He turned to the boy sitting in the last row with a full white shirt and a red tie. “How about you Sir” He asked in all politeness.

“Well, I am an engineer and want to study more to take a Doctoral degree from a reputed University in the United States. Then I want to be a Practicing Professor like Prof S J Arceivala of India or Prof W W Eckenfelder of the United States or Professor Ryoichi Yamamoto of Japan”

Professor said “Well, let me be honest with you, all these Professors you cited were or are essentially consultants in “disguise”. Indeed, they are excellent in the class rooms, writing books etc. but half of their energies are or were directed in grabbing consulting projects or running consulting outfits (sometimes remotely)  while taking shelter at the universities or international bodies.


W W Eckenfelder


Professor Yamamato


S J Arceivala

I simply did not like Professors caustic remarks on these outstanding Professors. I said that’s not true. Professors must get into consulting to bring the perspective of real world to the students. Professor Ryoichi Yamamoto is the Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo. A highly respected expert in environmentally conscious materials and design, as well as in Life-Cycle Assessment.  He is currently the Science Advisor for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Science and Technology, the President of The Institute of Life Cycle Assessment Japan, the President of The Eco-Efficient Forum of Japan, the President of International Green Procurement Network, and a member of steering committee of Eco Products Exhibition. His talks in the class room are therefore laced with his rich policy experience.

Professor Eckenfelder was known internationally as a pioneer in the field of water treatment and a leading authority in industrial wastewater management. He was an environmental engineering professor at Manhattan College, the University of Texas-Austin, and Vanderbilt University. Eckenfelder was a prolific writer and he influenced countless numbers of engineers through his many textbooks, hundreds of journal articles, and courses. Among Eckenfelder’s more than 30 technical books, his second book, Industrial Water Pollution Control published by McGraw-Hill, is a classic text initially intended for the classroom. Eckenfelder was the founding principal of several companies, including AWARE, Inc. in Nashville, Tenn., which was later named Eckenfelder, Inc. in his honor. AWARE merged in 1998 with Brown and Caldwell, a California-based full-service environmental engineering firm.

After his studies at the Harvard University, Professor Soli Arceivala was Professor at VJTI in Mumbai, then Director of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur and finally Advisor at WHO. He established and operated Associated Industrial Consultants (AIC) in Mumbai successfully that was later acquired by Montgomery Watson. Prof Arcievala published several classic books on wastewater treatment, water reuse and natural wastewater treatment systems where case studies have come from his practice experience.

My Friend Professor did not pay much attention to my defense of these distinguished Professors cum Consultants. He continued his questioning. He now asked a student sitting in the front row who was holding an iPad in his hand. He seemed to be googling the personalities that were getting mentioned. “How about you?” Professor asked him.

The student got up from his seat holding his iPad, put on his spectacles, took some time and said in a very thoughtful voice “I believe that you cannot mainstream sustainability unless you sit at the top of the organization or at least hold an anchor position and “shake” or “inspire” the system. I want to be Anand Mahindra of Mahindra & Mahindra or Jochen Zeitz of Puma or the like”

Professor laughed. “Strange, how you young minds don’t see the chameleons in the business. All these names you mentioned are actually businessmen focusing on making profits and getting on the top of the markets “somehow”. Sustainability is just a clever strategy that they discovered and they were smart to project and claim that the sustainability is now in the DNA of their organizations. Go and ask folks working for them – you will see a totally different picture”


Jochen Zeitz


Anand Mahindra

I thought that Professor was very biased and negative in all his judgements. The poor iPad student sat down in despair. I butted in immediately and said.

Friends, let me tell you a bit about Jochen Zeitz. He began his professional career with Colgate-Palmolive in New York and Hamburg and later joined PUMA in 1990. In 1993 he was appointed Chairman and CEO of PUMA becoming the youngest CEO in German history to head a public company at the age of 30. Zeitz managed to turn PUMA from a low priced, undesirable brand into one of the top 3 brands in the sporting goods industry. In 2008 Zeitz introduced PUMAVision, an ethical framework defined by the four key principles of being Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative as applied to all professional behavior, business procedures and relationships throughout and outside of PUMA. Zeitz conceived the Environmental Profit & Loss Account (E P&L) and coined the term and in May 2011 he announced PUMA’s Environmental Profit & Loss Account that puts a monetary value to a businesses use of ecosystem services across the entire supply chain. In 2008 Zeitz founded the not-for-profit Zeitz Foundation of Intercultural Ecosphere Safety to support creative and innovative sustainable projects and solutions that balance conservation, community development, culture, and commerce (the “4Cs”) in a quadruple bottom line approach, promoting an inclusive, holistic paradigm of conservation that enhances livelihoods and fosters intercultural dialogue while building sustainable businesses.

Zeitz has received the Strategist of the Year three times from the Financial Times “Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Trendsetter of the Year” and “Best of European Business Award 2006″. In 2010, the German Sustainability Foundation gave Zeitz an award for Germany’s most sustainable future strategies. In 2015 Jochen Zeitz was awarded the Special Advocacy Award for Responsible Capitalism.

Anand Mahindra is included by Fortune Magazine among the ‘World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’ and featured in the magazine’s 2011 listing of Asia’s 25 most powerful business people. Anand is a staunch advocate of promoting girl child education and in 1996, founded Project Nanhi Kali, which provides sponsorship to underprivileged girls across India including, material support (e.g. school uniforms, school bag, shoes, socks, stationery etc.).

A student of the arts and culture, Anand believes that the study of humanities is essential in shaping leaders of the future. In November 2010, he donated $10million to support the Harvard Humanities Center in honor of his mother, Indira Mahindra. It is the largest gift for the study of humanities in Harvard’s history.

Anand is co-founder of Naandi Danone, which is the largest safe drinking water provider to rural areas of India, catering to nearly 3 million customers. Founded in 1998, the Naandi Foundation works in 4 broad sectors: safe drinking water, support for urban school children, work training for unemployed youth and agricultural marketing.

The iPad student seemed to be convinced.

The Professor frowned.

The interactions continued and the students proposed several role models of India such as M C Mehta, the Environmental Lawyer, Dr Deepak Apte, Director of BNHS, Sunita Narain of Centre for Science & Environment and for each proposition, Professor continued finding faults and I kept on pointing the good work done by these leading personalities.

By then, most students realized the negativism and an attitude of finding faults with the Professor. One girl from the sixth row who was wearing a bright Tee shirt that had a slogan “We Dare”, got up, faced the classroom and spoke in a tone of leadership. She said

“Well Sirs, we now at least know what we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be like the Professor Friend of yours. And we want to be positive like you”

My Professor Friend was shocked with this statement. There was a silence in the class. He extinguished his cigar in the tray that was placed on the table and exclaimed.

“You mean you want to be like Dr Modak? He is a shining example of a thoroughly “kaleidoscoped” personality, with career profile showing utmost confusion and a complete lack of clarity. He has been a Professor, a Consultant, a Corporate Honcho, An Author and Editor, an Entrepreneur and an International Adviser to Governments & Financing Institutions. He also works as an NGO for spreading awareness and conducting training on environmental management & sustainability. I could never understand what this gentleman wanted to be. He has simply been a “free radical”. You will waste your time and career following him

I thought this time Professor was absolutely right. So I kept shut

I ended the class thanking the Professor.

I will be organizing the next Disha event in third week of June in Mumbai. Will keep you all posted. Stay tuned at

Cover image sourced from