Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance


On a Sunday morning, one of my good friends invited me for a breakfast. “Dr Modak, I have a serious matter to discuss with you. Please could you bring your Professor Friend as well?” He sounded a bit exasperated.

My friend lived in one of the tallest buildings in Mumbai on the 104th floor. In fact, he occupied floors from 100 to 104 and owned the terrace that had a helipad. Few knew that he was the richest Indian on a global basis and yet he paid all the tax dues in full and in time to the Government of India and such several Governments. The world economy depended on him, his business and his investments.

Some believed that his Indian tax returns were more than the annual budget of Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. To me this was rather an underestimate. Most business tycoons and houses like Tatas, Birlas, Ambani’s and Mittals were dwarfs in front of my friends “might”. He however chose to remain anonymous and only PM Modi (and of course Amit Shah) knew about him. “Money is not everything in life” He used to tell me whenever we had occasions to meet. This was not surprising as he already had all the money of the world to make such a statement!

“So my friend? What’s your problem? I asked while sipping a freshly brewed Columbian coffee that was served in a solid silver mug.

“Well, you know my daughter is getting married this year. As it is going to be an important event that will draw attention of the world, me and my wife decided to start planning. I thought of engaging the Taj group and so called on Cyrus Mistry. The first thing, Cyrus asked me whether I have obtained an Environmental Clearance (EC) from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (and Climate Change).”

“Apparently, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar feels that the environmental impact of Indian weddings on an aggregated basis is much more than environmental impact of 100 coal fired thermal power plants put together! A report was prepared by 7 IITs to make a comparative assessment and the conclusions led to requirement of EC for Indian weddings where the number of guests or invitees exceed 500. It has been now put in the Schedule”

“Oh 7 IITs again” – I remembered the fiasco when 7 IITs were commissioned by the Ganga Authority to prepare the Action Plan – something the Professors had no clue about and the result was inconsequential!”

But my friend continued.

“This is a terrible stipulation. I estimate at least 50,000 people to attend my daughter’s wedding. This is something I thought was modest – of course a little more lavish than the Weddings of Roys, Jhunjhunwalas and Mittals. But how do I get this EC? Cyrus said that it will take at least one year as it will involve baseline monitoring, some mathematical modelling (essentially a show-of) and public hearing (for name-sake)”

Requirement of EC for weddings was a news to me. I knew that lately food waste had become a focus of discussions to flag the environmental impact of Indian weddings. A recent survey showed that annually, Bangalore alone wastes 943 tonnes of quality food during weddings. The survey showed that 22% food wasted in buffet system and 20% in served system “This is enough to feed 26 million people a normal Indian meal,” a study by a team of 10 professors from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore, had concluded. The team, under the guidance of UAS vice-chancellor K Narayana Gowda, surveyed 75 of Bangalore’s 531 marriage halls over a period of six months. At an average cost of Rs 40 per meal, the total food wastage in the city is estimated at Rs 3390 million” the study said.

I realized that my friend’s plan of inviting 50,000 guests will mean that the economic implications of the food wastage could be close to annual budget of corporations of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata – put together.

Given this estimated impact, I told my friend that he hires one of the top EIA consultants in the country or for that matter in the world and get an EC on a “fast track”.  “Speak to the PM if Javadekar is adamant” I said. “The party is powerful. They just got rid of Raghuram Rajan, Governor of RBI”

“Well, I don’t want to jump the queue”. My friend said humbly. “I will follow the rules and get a proper EC” He then turned to Professor and asked “Sir, will you help me and be my consultant?”

Professor lighted his cigar, took a deep puff and placed the cigar on an ash tray that was studded with diamond and in gold.

“I can certainly help you. We will prepare a high quality and comprehensive EIA report and follow all the required process steps”

He then started outlining his ideas.

“We will follow all the best known green wedding norms”

“All invitations will be e-mailed. Ministers and top administrators will however get hard copies on recycled paper as they don’t read emails”

“We will conduct baseline monitoring at the Brabourne stadium, which will be the appropriate venue, and place continuous air quality (including odor) and noise monitoring instruments on every 15 degree sector of the stadium. These stations will collect data on a round the clock basis over 3 months, especially covering the periods of cricket matches where spikes could be observed. We will later show through sophisticated prediction modelling that the impact on air quality and noise during our wedding will be much lower than the impact caused due to the game of cricket!”

“Regarding food, we will put placards with messages saying guests must not waste food and take only what they can consume. All those who will waste food will be tracked and fined”

“That’s not a good idea” my friend said. I saw him embarrassed.

“OK, then we will design the menu such that there is least impact in sourcing the raw materials. All raw materials will be sourced within the 10 km impact radius (following the norm of impact assessment followed in the Indian EIA system)”

“We will not have on the menu expensive delicacies such as beef, lobster and the ever-controversial shark-fin soup in the interest of animal welfare, sentiments and biodiversity. We will only select locally produced, organic, seasonal food, served buffet-style in order to minimize waste.  This menu will influence people later to follow. There will not be any IPR”

“The bride and groom will wear only environmentally and socially responsible jewelry and cotton outfits certified by GOTS. The decorations will consist of 5,000 potted plants, reusable natural cloth, LED lights and paper flowers”

“Over 500 workers of a recycling firm will be deployed to segregate the excess food properly, pack and serve the poor that are so many in Mumbai. The food waste will be promptly dispatched to a biogas processing facility”

“We will thus influence the vendors to go green and create in this process a huge market for green products and services. A new green wedding industry will emerge”

Now Professor took a deep puff from his cigar for a new idea.

“We will hold a 2 minute session for Weddings wows that will be administered every one hour during the wedding ceremony. These wows will ask for making a public commitment that henceforth i.e. after attending the wedding, you will live sustainably. This wow will be administered by top Bollywood stars so that the wow will be heard, followed and practiced seriously”

“Great” said my friend “Any consideration on analysis of alternatives? Cyrus said that Javadekar is very particular when it comes to alternatives He has never seen generation and analyses of alternatives in the Indian EIA reports so far and is hence very curious.”

The Professor smiled

“Our environmental and social management plan will ensure least ecological footprint as much possible. We will study the addresses of invitees and come up with a decentralized strategy. The wedding will be relayed though screens of the size of a 6 storied building at multiple locations such that the overall carbon emissions are reduced. So in effect only 5000 people may attend the actual wedding at the Brabourne stadium and rest may participate remotely at say 10 locations. These locations will be carefully selected on application of Mixed Integer Zero One Programming.  We will however take on cumulative impact assessment of the 10 simultaneous weddings. MoEF (&CC) is in a habit of asking such studies later as an afterthought. Further, an environmental and social management framework will be developed overarching the 10 locations emphasizing a common “green code of conduct”. Separate public hearings will be executed too”.

“Oh, that is very thoughtful of you Professor”, I said “So you will assess impacts with and without “project” and with “centralized” and “decentralized” approach.

“Yes, will you be giving any return gifts?” Professor asked my friend.

“Well, I was thinking of giving gold bars of 100 gms to everyone who will bless the bride and the groom” My friend said – “this is the least I can offer”

“Let me then come up with a high level Disaster Management Plan (DMP) as there could be possibilities of stampedes while collecting the return gifts” Professor said this thoughtfully and took down notes in his scratch pad.

I thought of butting in. “Why don’t we give 2 bars of gold if they chose to come in public transport. All they will need to do is show the manager the bus, tram or railway ticket as a proof”

“Good idea”. My friend said. “I really want to do something more for all those who will attend. Why not offer a free health check up on the nearby Oval grounds and give coupons of Rs 50,000 each to cover one year of medical expenses”

“So kind of you” Professor said. He continued.

“In any case, we will publish a sustainability report following GRI G4 format post the wedding as a measure of transparency and disclosure. Importantly, I will train the media on the GRI so that there is no mis-reporting”

In essence, your wedding celebrations will be low carbon-emitting, socially-responsible, energy efficient and embrace the four Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle, and repair). With all these commitments, the event will live up to the expectations of being one of the most memorable event talked about over the next 5 years (i.e. till your son’s wedding)

“Finally, carbon offsetting, i.e., reducing greenhouse gases from other emissions sources to compensate from our own actions will be followed.  We will plant trees to absorb GHGs (that will in any case we very low) and if required buy land and raise the green cover in Mumbai to 20% “

We ended the breakfast with all this inspiring conversation. Professor was duly commissioned for getting the EC.

In few months, I received a call from my friend that the project proposal for his daughter’s wedding received the EC. The Appraisal Committee was extremely happy to see Professors robust environmental and social management plan. The only condition they imposed was to get an invitation to attend the wedding (of course for the purpose of monitoring they said and not for any other interest!)

My friend said that he was asked to join for Tea, post granting of EC, by Minister Prakash Javadekar in his chamber. When asked “any suggestions?” my friend said that while the idea of asking EC for weddings was a right step, how about asking for EC for holding political rallies? He said that rallies attracting thousands of people are rather impacting and could mean an aggregated impact equivalent to 200 coal power thermal power plants.

Apparently the Minister smiled and said “Well, we cannot – as these events are organized to generate income for those who work for, attend and participate – For rallies, we must take a broad perspective of socio-economic benefits and not focus only on the environmental impacts”

“Why don’t you and Professor join again for breakfast?” My friend ended the conversation. He once again sounded rather exasperated with this explanation!

Cover image sourced from



Professor Thanh Teaches me the (Emotional) Art of Giving


Professor N C Thanh was Chairman of Environmental Engineering Division when I joined Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. Most in the Division used to be scared of him as he had a very strict face and was firm with the rules. He was however a different person when it came to the Division parties. He used be the star of the event, socialize with everybody and even lead to the dance floor.

Professor Thanh was always well dressed and wore everything branded – his belt, his shoes, his shirt and the tie were all signature stuff. I don’t think he ever shopped items on sale or with discounts! That was the personality.

Professor Thanh was a Vietnamese national. He studied in Canada for his doctoral research (University of Laval) and became a Canadian Citizen. He spoke French very fluently. His English had a mix of Vietnamese and French accent. Whenever he spoke it sounded rather pleasant  and sweat.

During my stay at AIT, I hardly interacted with Professor Thanh as I worked with Dr Bindu Lohani. I knew that water treatment was one of his areas of expertise and he had bagged research awards on work done on “horizontal filtration”.

After I returned to India, I reconnected with Professor Thanh after nearly 5 years, in 1989, on a cruise on River Chao Praya.  Meeting him on the cruise was a sheer accident. He asked me “Dr Modak, what do you do now a days? I have left AIT now and I run training programmes under the banner of CEFIGREE (International Centre in Water Resources Management in France). Would you have time and interest to come to Bangkok and deliver lectures in our training courses? We don’t pay much but we will take good care of you!” I readily agreed to Professor Thanh’s proposal. I was missing Bangkok anyways.

I used to lecture on Water Quality Modelling and Management in Professor Thanh’s courses. These events used to be once every four months and I did many sorties to Bangkok for nearly three years. Professor Thanh was a good host and a meticulous organizer. His team included Wanida Srichai – my batch mate and Khun Ratana – Prof Thanh’s earlier secretary at AIT. They really took good care of me. I was picked up and dropped to the airport, put in a decent and a friendly hotel, taken out to some excellent local restaurants with friends and of course to the shopping malls.

While at AIT, I didn’t have an opportunity to listen to Professor Thanh’s lectures. During one of the training programmes of CEFIGRE, I had an opportunity. Once Professor Thanh was introducing the subject of Water Quality. His first two slides were however not connected to the subject at all. The first slide showed a map of Bangkok with locations of the shopping malls where sale was on. The second slide showed map of Pat pong, Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy with locations of some of the most frequented night clubs and the “Go Go” bars.

While showing these two slides to the participants, Professor Thanh smiled and said “Well, you all will have copies of these two slides. So don’t worry about what to do in the evenings – everything is taken care of. A mini-van with a driver who speaks English has also been arranged for your safety and comfort”. And then he made a serious face and said “But now listen to me. We are going to discuss Water Quality now and I want your full attention – no distractions please!”. I really liked his style.

Professor Thanh often gave surprises. I recall that there was a round table meeting in Bangkok that he and I were present. The organizers asked each one of us to introduce. I did my best in projecting my research and work experience and try to impress the people. When Professor Thanh’s turn came, he simply said “I specialize in managing people”. I was surprised. During the coffee break, I went to him and said “Professor, why didn’t you talk about your work on water treatment, research you published, awards you secured etc. – “managing people” sounded a bit trivial!”. Professor Thanh smiled and said “Dr Modak, you will soon realize that managing people is actually the key and something so hard to do”. Unfortunately, I understood his point much later in my life.


Professor N C Thanh on the extreme right – A recent picture – courtesy Professor Visu standing next to him with a memento

Professor Thanh would remember every minute detail. I remember we were having a drink at one of our close friends place (P. Illangovan) in Bangkok. Professor Thanh was working with a Finnish company then called “Soil & Water” that operated from Helsinki. Before the dinner, Professor did a concoction for me with a red lingonberry Finnish wine, a wine not generally seen at the duty free shops.  The concoction was exceptional and I praised Professor Thanh for the delicate balance and said “Professor, wish we have another occasion to drink this wine once again”.

Years passed by. I was in Yogyakarta in Indonesia in 2002 for a conference. I saw Professor Thanh’s name in the list of delegates. When I checked in, I had a message in my room “Dr Modak, I knew you were to attend this conference. Please could you come to my room at 7 pm for a drink”? When I reached his room, there were friends and some new faces that Professor Thanh introduced. Professor Thanh then got up, opened the mini-bar and took out a bottle of red lingonberry. He told everybody “This wine is Dr Modak’s favorite. I am offering him a concoction that he last loved in Bangkok”. I later realized that Professor had shopped this wine just for me in one of his trips to Helsinki and kept in the reserve for the “future occasion”.  I was shocked with his memory and the affectionate gesture.

Professor Thanh moved as Director of Asian Institute of Technology in Hanoi and we had several opportunities to meet and do joint projects. During one of the missions, I remember visiting his house in Ho-Chi-Minh City. I was greeted by his old father and the three sisters who cooked the dinner that evening for me. When we sat on the dining table, Professor Thanh’s father introduced the Menu, spoke about each item and called on the sister who prepared that item and thanked for the hard work. This was something rather touching and unusual. When we finished the dinner, I was asked to say a few words about my experience of eating the home cooked Vietnamese food. I spoke and Professor Thanh did the translation. The dinner was really an event, rather emotional and memorable.

Expressing emotions has always been Professor Thanh’s weaknesses. He is a very sentimental and a sensitive person. I visited his house in Bangkok when he had organized a lunch for me and Dr Bindu Lohani. He asked me to come early. When I arrived, he took me to the market. He then personally picked up the vegetables, meat and the fruits after a lot of thought and examination. “It is important that one should be personally involved right from shopping when it comes to preparing lunch for friends. Most ask the cook or order from a restaurant. I don’t when it comes to friends” He said. And the lunch turned out to be excellent.


Professor Thanh, Dr Bindu Lohani and Prof Visu at AIT – A Recent Picture 

After the lunch, Dr Lohani left and I stayed a bit longer. Professor Thanh took me upstairs to show the house and I saw an amazing collection of handicrafts, art pieces and paintings. I couldn’t resist but praise some of art work and I said “I envy you Professor for such a great collection”. Many of these pieces were original antiques. Later, we went downstairs for a cup of Vietnamese tea.

As I was leaving his house and getting into a taxi, a large box was handed over to me. I was surprised. When asked about it, Professor Thanh said “Dr Modak, these are a few gifts for you as a memory for today’s wonderful lunch”. I insisted to open the box and found that the box contained gifts that were actually the very art crafts that I had praised during the house tour. I felt very embarrassed and said “Professor, I was only appreciating.. You didn’t have to gift”. Professor Thanh smiled and said “Dr Modak, its easy to give a gift to someone by shopping in a mall. There are no emotions there! But it is something different when you gift someone from your own collection and part it happily – all as a token of love and affection. My heart will be with you when you will keep these artifacts in your house”. I was simply speechless.

I still have those wonderful gifts of art work in my house. They remind me of Professor Thanh and his teaching to me on how to gift a friend. The (emotional) art of giving.

Cover image sourced from



India’s New Insurance Product – The Pollution Policy


My wife told me to get a Health Insurance done. It’s not any more a fashion but a necessity she said. Especially since we live in Mumbai.

I agreed.

Health insurance is now a growing segment in India. The health insurance premium has registered a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32 per cent for the past eight financial years.

I asked my Professor Friend for an advice on which insurance company I should talk to.

Oh, easy, why don’t you join me for a breakfast meeting at the Grand Hyatt in Santa Cruz with S.K. Roy, Chairman of LIC, CEO of Max Life Rajesh Sud, G Srinivasan and CMD of New India Assurance, Sandeep Bakshi. CEO of ICICI Pru and Sanjay Bajaj of Bajaj Alianze are also joining. All these friends will give you perfect advice.

I got a bit worried that talking to these “insurance czars”  could mean simply too much of receiving advice and hence a risk. I was however not able to understand Professor’s role in this breakfast meeting. Whats his connection? I was wondering. But since the breakfast was set at the Grand Hyatt, I decided to follow Professor’s suggestion. I love the Kanchipuram Idlis and Pesarattu (Green Gram Dosa) out there.

It was a Sunday morning and all the insurance company honchos came in Tee shirts with their tag lines. S K Roy’s Tee shirt had the usual drab tag line – Yogakshemam Vahamyaham which no one understood. Tagline of Rajesh Sud’s Tee shirt was Aapke Sachhe Advisor that put me in some doubt. Born to lead was the tagline of G. Srinivasan that made no sense and Sanjay Bajaj carried the tagline Jiyo Befiqar. Sandeep Bakshi had a tagline Zimmedari ka humsafar and both these taglines sounded rather filmy.

Professor took a gulp of coffee from a large mug and opened the meeting.

“Gentleman, many of you asked me about the recent news about Delhi losing on the life expectancy by 6.4 years. – a news that was based on a publication from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) jointly with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Colorado, United States. This study titled ‘Premature mortality in India due to PM2.5 and ozone exposure’ was first published by the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) on May 2014, but was reported by some papers only last week”

“Interesting” said S K Roy, while picking up a banana. “So on one hand we are doing well by increasing the life expectancy through advances in medicines, but on the other hand we are losing the battle because of pollution”

G Srinivasan supported Roy. He was eating organic corn flex that was imported from Australia.

For those who may not be familiar with the term life expectancy – The World Health Organization defines life expectancy as “the average number of years a person is expected to live on the basis of the current mortality rates and prevalence distribution of health states in a population”. In India, average life expectancy which used to be around 42 in 1960, steadily climbed to around 48 in 1980, 58.5 in 1990 and around 62s in 2000. Statistics recently released by the Union ministry of health and family welfare show that life expectancy in India has gone up by five years, from 62.3 years for males and 63.9 years for females in 2001-2005 to 67.3 years and 69.6 years respectively in 2011-2015. From Global averages, we are still low.


Experts attribute this jump — higher than that in the previous decade — to better immunization and nutrition, coupled with prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. So if your child was born in the last couple of years, he or she is likely to live five years more than children born a decade ago.

Experts have however pointed out that increasing life expectancy beyond 70 years would depend on environmental factors. These factors would include air we breathe and quality of water we drink. Yes, we will live longer, but the big question is how healthy our lives would be.  It seems that environmental pollution will be the fourth highest risk factor for deaths. The death count due to pollution is projected to swell in the coming decades because the population in most countries is ageing, and older people are more susceptible to illnesses caused by pollution.

Professor continued. He was having egg white in poached style on a multi-grain bread.

“Latest international research studies have shown that over 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to air pollution. Earlier research has shown that India’s air pollution is cutting three years off the lives of some of the country’s residents.  This research analyzed air pollution measurements across India and found that more than half the country’s population — 660 million people in total — live in regions that have air pollution levels higher than India’s national standards. If those high levels of air pollution were brought down, the study states, Indian residents would gain, on average, an additional 3.2 years of life expectancy”

“So Professor, we must reflect impact of pollution on our calculations of the health premiums” said Sanjay Bajaj. I liked his remark as I saw him picking up the Pesarattu (Green Gram Dosa).

I thought of butting in now and said

“But the IITM study has been already rejected by Hon Minister Prakash Javadekar. According to him the study was based on research done in Europe and America and has been extrapolated to “defame” India. This study used a regional atmospheric chemistry model and not actual sampling, cohorts and long term observations. I was told that he has asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to formally challenge the report later this week. So we shouldn’t take this 6.4 years of decrease in life expectancy that seriously”

Oh Yes, Professor said “That’s the problem of research publications and the news hungry journalists”

“Poor Sachin Ghude, leader of this paper, has taken long leave and is supposed to be in disguise. If you search IITM’s website, you will not see any mention of this study nor the publication. Fortunately there are no apologies posted!”

The IITM scientist Sachin Ghude, had clearly said, “Although these results are in line with other global estimates, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), there’s no physical way to tell who has actually been killed by air pollution.” Gudhe had added, “The methods used in this study rely on statistical algorithms to construct estimates about a population’s response to pollution exposure using previous concrete observations on pollution and public health”. The problem is that most of these observational studies have taken place in regions with comparatively low pollution levels, such as Europe or the US, and we don’t have any epidemiological studies in India that look at the long-term effects of air pollution on mortality,” Gudhe had cautioned. But the news did not communicate these caveats. Thats typical of news-makers. Isnt it?

Sandeep Bakshi did not like my intervention. While picking up a chicken sausage, he smirked and said “Well, there must be “some truth” in this work. You can always find faults in every ground breaking research carried out. There is nothing perfect. Science evolves”

Most said “Hmm…” as all were enjoying the breakfast and didn’t want to speak.

“Well” Professor said. “The Journalist who broke this news was not up to date and picked up a 2014 article. More recent work on this subject has been published by Sourangsu Chowdhury and Sagnik Dey of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. This paper titled “Cause-specific premature death from ambient PM2.5 exposure in India: Estimate adjusted for baseline mortality” shows that 50% population living in 45% districts of India is exposed at PM2.5 exceeding Indian air quality standard of 40 μg m−3 . Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh was identified as the cleanest district (annual PM2.5 is 3.7 ± 1 μg m−3), while Delhi as the dirtiest metropolitan area (annual PM2.5 is148 ± 51 μg m−3). According to this research if India manages to achieve the national air quality target of 40 μg m−3, 44,900 (5900–173,300) less annual premature death is expected. If Minister Javadekar is really sensitive about Delhi then he will have to refute this recent study as well. But then how many studies can he refute? The CPCB will have nothing else to do but keep issuing rejoinders”

The Clean Air Act of US added years to the lives of Americans by reducing particulate pollution.Particulate data from 1970 to 2012 of US EPA yielded striking results for American cities. In Los Angeles, particulate pollution declined by more than half since 1970. The average Angeleno lives about a year and eight months longer. Residents of New York and Chicago have gained about two years on average. With more than 42 million people currently living in these three metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy has added up to something substantial.

Rajesh Sud was keeping quiet for all this while. He was having Punjabi Paratha with Curd that was rather filling. He wiped his face with an eco-labelled napkin and said slowly

“It is clear that we must factor in our health insurance scheme the pollution. Today, researchers are publishing articles on air quality but there will soon be series of articles on reduced life expectancy due to poor water quality – especially in rural India. The question is how to be adjust our premiums to the place people live. For example, a person in Delhi will pay 5000 Rs extra compared to Bhopal etc. as the life expectancy in Delhi is claimed to be low”

Professor lit his Cigar. I knew that this is now the time for new ideas.

“Well, I recommend you to come up with an entirely new insurance product. Call this as the Pollution Policy. Through promotion of this new instrument, you will raise awareness on pollution to common person. This policy will also make the Government think hard on the overall economics.

According to IITM study, it was found that the cost of the estimated premature mortalities was about $640 billion in 2011 —about 10 times higher than the country’s total expenditures on health that year. If you look at the health insurance premium for 2011 – it was just about USD 2.0 billion. May be the new Pollution Policy will click and it will generate USD 2.0 billion to start with which may grow to say USD 5.0 billion through aggressive marketing. Perhaps Government could take share of this premium and improve the hospital infrastructure by setting up respiratory treatment wards or more importantly invest in arresting air pollution i.e. prevention of pollution at source. You the Insurance companies will thus  provide protection to the pollution affected people while tapping the billion dollar market of Pollution Policy Premiums and in this process help the Government. NITI Aayog wants more such innovative insurance products to come up in the public health arena”

I thought I should add something interesting here as I was waiting for my strong filter coffee.

“Friends, China’s largest online travel agency is now offering tourists “smog insurance”, permitting travelers to claim financial compensation should their city break be blighted by bad air. has created the “haze-travel insurance package” in collaboration with the Chinese insurance firm Ping an and has been selling this new product.

The insurance is focused on six cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an, all of which are popular with tourists – and also suffer from poor air quality. Under the new insurance package, tourists who spend at least two days in the designated city while pollution levels are high will be able to file claims.

Evidently aimed at domestic rather than international tourists, the premium comes to 10RMB (£1) and travelers can claim 50RMB (£5) per day.”

All listened to me politely. “Travel insurance is another story” – said the Professor – “but you can draw ideas for the Pollution Policy”. He patted on my back.

When we were existing the Grand Hyatt, S K Roy walked with me “Dr Modak, I would like to change my tag line. Any suggestions?”

I said consider “Come to Us – We have the Solution to Pollution

“Thank you Dr Modak” said Mr. Roy “Let me discuss with my colleagues”

While getting in the car, I was just thinking “Is Pollution Policy the real Solution?

Cover image sourced from


My Workshop Memoirs


It is often hard to distinguish the terms workshop, seminar, symposium etc. While there are definitions available, generally these events create opportunities to bring the stakeholders together. With the advent of internet technologies, we don’t have to bring together the stakeholders physically anymore  and do a webinar instead of a seminar. But indeed there is no substitute to the face to face meets.

Workshops are platforms where there is more active engagement. While both “open” and “closed” formats are possible, the latter format is generally preferred. Workshops often entail group based activities where groups are tasked. In the groups, brainstorming happens – a term popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953 (You should not miss reading his book Applied Imagination). During such a session, there is no discussion or criticism and evaluation of ideas takes place later. Osborn credited the origin of the process to Hindu teachers in India, who used the method of Prai– (outside yourself) Barshana (question) for over 400 years.

I remember the first international workshop that I organized on Water Quality Management. At that time, I was inducted as a Consultant to the Ganga Action Plan and was closely working with Dr Niloy Choudhari, Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and K C Sivaramakrishnan, Project Director at the Ganga Project Directorate (GPD). At that time, there was a beeline of international consultants queuing at the GPD “selling” their skills and experience. I used to attend presentations from agencies like Thames Water, Seven Trent from the UK, US Environmental Protection Agency, Lyonnaise des Eaux France S.A., Ruhrverband, Germany etc.

I came up with an idea of holding an international workshop at IIT Bombay and bring the “Vendors” along with Academia for an exposition with discussions. The workshop was conceived over 5 days on a residential basis and we had 50 participants.

This workshop was an amazing experience for me to learn event coordination & logistics, understand science based politics and of course the subjects that covered water quality modelling, wastewater treatment, policies, regulation and standards and importantly the economics of water quality management. The workshop was attended by some of the great personalities across the world – many of them were inspiring and like lighthouses.


 Professor G Rinke (University of Darmstadt), Thomas Barnwell (US EPA), Professor Poppinghouse (University of Aachen), David Triggs (Thames Water) 


I gave the opening speech at the Workshop


Paritosh Tyagi and Prof S J Arceivala

All the participants were accommodated at IIT Guest house next to the scenic Powai Lake.

I recall that one of the evenings K C Shivaramakrishnan (KC) asked me to organize a car to take him to meet L C Gupta (LC), then Chairman of CIDCO on the Marine Drive. The car dropped him at L C Gupta’s house in the evening. KC was to have a dinner with LC. After the dinner, KC came down and did not find the car. He gave me a call in all rage and anguish and growled “Send me another car Dr Modak– your driver has simply vanished”. Actually the poor driver was right there – and only few meters away, but KC was expecting him to be parked right outside the gate with door open waiting for him. So typical of a senior IAS officer!!  I took another car and we drove at 10 pm from Powai to Marine Drive. I went up to LC’s house and found that KC was fuming.

We returned to Powai and during the journey he cooled down especially when I explained to him that my driver was right there and was waiting for him. As we reached the campus, KC said “Dr Modak, if you are OK, let us go your office and discuss the Ganga Action Plan. I don’t think I am in a mood to sleep”. It was 11 pm then.

We went to my office at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering. Some students were working in the laboratory. My colleague Radha Gopalan was doing her experiments. I asked Radha to do a coffee on a Bunsen burner using a Corning Glass Beaker. We probably made a good coffee as KC just took off. He gave us an amazing “insight” to the Ganga Action Plan and talked about not just the politics but challenges of urban infrastructure, administration and finance – essentially his areas of specialization. We asked him questions so the discussions went on till 1 am. While getting dropped at the Guest House, KC said “Thank you Dr Modak, you made me vent out today. And I am really sorry for all the trouble” and I said “Sir, to me this session was the best part of our Workshop! I must thank you”.

My interest of holding strategic workshops continued. In 1990, I approached Asia Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT). My idea was to hold a 5 day regional workshop on Waste Management & Recycling. The idea was to bring together senior management of the Government and top notch Academia in the Asia-Pacific region and expose them to the paradigm shift of waste to resource management. I booked the entire Valvan Village Resort at Lonavala, a hill station between Mumbai and Pune. We were 50 participants representing counties like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and of course India.


Workshop Participants at the Valvan Village Resort, Lonavala


My Team, Samson (now no more). Mandar Parasnis (now with IFC, Hong Kong), Mahendra Savardekar, Sanjay Lathkar (now Inspector General of Police with awards from the President of India) and Juzer Dhondia (now working in the United State)

The workshop had several features – group work, field visits, software demonstrations, videos. We had cultural events too that included violin recital and a Bharatanatyam dance.

There were four participants from Pakistan. All four were worried and tensed to be in India. When they arrived in Mumbai, we organized two cars for them to travel to Lonavala. I proposed that in each car, two Pakistani’s would sit with two my colleagues. The Pakistani’s refused this proposal and said that all four of them must stay together and our second car with my colleagues could lead. I was not happy with this proposition but finally I gave up and agreed. The cars took off in the morning.

Somehow the driver of the car where Pakistani colleagues were sitting jumped the signal in Chembur near the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). The traffic policeman stopped the car and asked the driver to show his license. And then very casually, the policeman asked the travelers “Sir, where are you from?” One of the Pakistani colleagues answered “From Islamabad!” And then there was a grave silence. People from Pakistan next to BARC? This was just not acceptable.

I was summoned immediately to the Police Headquarters in Mumbai for the explanation. Fortunately, the Inspector General of Police then Mr. Vasant Saraf  was a friend (He was Counselor at the Indian Embassy in Bangkok when I used to live there). I was told to take the Pakistani’s every evening to the police station in Lonavala and register during their entire stay. This added a new dimension to the Workshop and was a new lesson learnt!

In 1992, I was invited by the USAID to participate in a 3 day workshop on a Nile Cruise in Egypt. The workshop theme focused on the Business in the Environment sector in the next 25 years. The participants included CEOs of companies like Metcalf & Eddy, Bi-Water, and CH2M Hill etc. There was so much to learn, especially for me! I don’t see such workshops happening in India. We should do such events.


The Workshop Host – Dr Jim Gallup at the Dining Hall on the Nile Cruise


One of our Discussion Sessions

In 2002, the World Bank asked me to prepare Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) for the Palar River Basin in Tamil Nadu. For this work, I proposed a 3 day residential workshop at Kanchipuram, city of the Shankaracharyas. The workshop had 40 participants and we booked the entire hotel. Three Ministers of the State participated. Participants included farmers who were impacted due to pollution. They came in the traditional veshty.

There were rules of conduct for the workshop. One of them was not to argue based on emotions. All arguments were to be evidence based. For this I had set up a “Knowledge Room” in the hotel that had the maps, reports, data etc and access to the Internet. All participants were encouraged to bring the information they had and place in the Knowledge Room. This rule actually worked and the workshop outcomes had all the consensus and the meat for taking actions. Asia’s first river basin board was formed.

In 2004, I did a workshop on Cleaner Production in Tagaytay in the Philippines. Tagaytay is one of the most popular tourist destinations because of its outstanding scenery and cooler climate provided by its high altitude. Tagaytay overlooks Taal Lake in Batangas and provides one of the iconic views. I was the workshop organizer and there was no pre-fixed agenda. There were only 20 participants – select experts of international repute on Cleaner Production. On the first day, we worked on the agenda to decide “what to do” over the next 3 days. We decided the workshop structure, topics to be dealt with and the lead speakers – all amongst us. A consensus was reached at the end of first day. The agenda ensured that we achieve the outcomes we were looking for. I enjoyed this style of workshop design and conduct. Instead of pre-fixing the agenda apriori it is many times more effective to evolve one as a group and then work together. Such workshops rarely happen! But you need to have mature or experienced group of participants!

In one of my trips to Southampton in the UK, I met a Professor. He used to run workshop on Finite Element Methods on Queen Elizabeth II that plied between London and New York. The workshop was boutique in a sense as it would take only 15 select participants. The workshop was run by Professor and his Family. His wife was a travel agent who would do the bookings and handle logistics. Daughter was a Yoga and Health food freak and so she would conduct Yoga sessions on the deck and design the food menu. Son was into photojournalism and publishing and he would produce a book of lectures of the Professor at end of the cruise. Wow!! The Family used to have great time of being together every year, as a paid holiday and garner business through the connection with the participants. I liked this model.


Queen Elizabeth II Luxury Liner

I told my Professor friend about workshop on the cruise.

Professor was excited

“Let us do this Dr Modak. We will book Ocean World, the luxury liner that plies between Pattaya, Ko Samui and Cambodia over 3 nights and 4 days. I will join. We will teach sustainability to top business leaders of Asia –on strategizing business of tomorrow. Your son in law is a sustainability chef of repute, your daughter is a Yoga and Health Freak and your son is a renewable energy nerd. So all this perfectly fits!”


Ko Samui Islands in Thailand

“True”. I responded “Let us run the workshop on the Ocean World. Let us look at the good weather of November-December”

Friends –I am very serious!! Anyone interested to join? Write to me. THERE ARE ONLY LIMITED SEATS